Colin Kaepernick did not stand during a loud and energetic singing of the national anthem before Thursday’s preseason game against the Chargers, and this time he had company.
Safety Eric Reid, who earlier in the week was supportive of Kaepernick calling attention to racial injustices in this country, took a knee alongside Kaepernick on the 49ers sideline. Reid was to the quarterback’s right. To his left was Nate Boyer, the former Green Beret who wrote Kaepernick a compassionate letter earlier in the week. Boyer, who had a brief stint with the Seahawks last preseason, was invited by Kaepernick to stand on the 49ers’ sideline during the game.
Reid said the three spoke hours before the game to figure out a way that Kaepernick could voice his displease but not convey disrespect.
While Kapernick sat by himself and was behind teammates during the anthem last week, on Thursday he and Reid were on one knee amid their teammates. "I thought that would be more respectful and so did Nate,” Reid said. “... It shows that he hears the people that were hurt by him sitting, but he still believes in the cause that we wants to bring awareness to.”
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Kaepernick said he and Reid, the team’s union representative, have had many conversations about the social issues that have triggered the quarterback’s protest.
“It’s amazing,” Kaepernick said in a packed post-game press conference. “Me and Eric had many conversations. He approached me and said, ‘I support what you’re doing, I support what your message is, let’s think about how we can do this together.’ And we talked about it at length. And we wanted to make sure the message that we send isn’t lost in the action that comes along with it.”
Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane, a fifth-year veteran, also sat during the anthem before his team’s game. Afterward Lane said he did it to show solidarity with Kaepernick. “I didn’t know that,” Kaepernick said when asked about Lane after the game. “I’m very happy. I’m very proud of him for doing that.”
The game began with the Chargers’ annual “Salute to the Military,” which included a parachute team descending into Qualcomm Stadium – one trailing a banner that read, “We support our troops” – and a massive American flag. The reaction to the singing of the national anthem was as boisterous as expected, even in a stadium that was perhaps half full.
That crowd also blasted Kaepernick with thunderous boos throughout the contest, especially when he trotted onto the field for the first snap of the game. He had an answer, however, completing his first four passes and leading the 49ers on a 16-play scoring drive to open the game. Kaepernick completed a 14-yard pass to receiver Dres Anderson in traffic on third and 8 to bring the 49ers to the 1-yard line.
Running back DuJuan Harris scored two plays later. Kaepernick also ran twice for 30 yards on the drive and was greeted with back thwacks and congratulations from teammates and coaches upon returning to the sideline.
Kaepernick’s second drive ended with a punt. His third, which included a near touchdown catch by Ryan Whalen and also a near interception, ended with a 32-yard Phil Dawson field goal. He was 11 for 18 for 103 yards in the first half. Christian Ponder, who entered the game in the third quarter, scored two rushing touchdowns and the 49ers won, 31-21.
Both sides held out their would-be Week 1 starters for the contest. The only 49ers offensive player who was on the field and who has a chance of starting Sept. 12 was left guard Joshua Garnett.
Kaepernick has not risen during the national anthem for all four of his team’s preseason games, although the protest wasn’t noted until the third game last week because he hadn’t been in uniform for the first two contests.
He said his stance was not meant as a slap against the military -- “I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this,” he said --and reinforced that message in the second quarter. At one point, the public-address announcer asked the veterans in the crowd to stand up and be recognized. Kaepernick was among those applauding on the sideline while Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” played on the stadium’s sound system.
The quarterback said he refuses to honor a flag that represents a country in which minorities are mistreated, particularly by the police.
“People don’t realize what’s really going on in this country,” Kaepernick has said. “There are a lot things that are going on that are unjust. People aren’t being held accountable. And that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that this country stands for freedom, liberty and justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”
Kaepernick said Thursday he’s become involved in numerous organizations and that he would donate the first $1 million he earns this year. He did not specify which outfit would receive the donation.
His stance predictably sparked coast-to-coast debate. Some, like presidential candidate Donald Trump, suggested Kaepernick find a better country. Others, including figures from the civil rights era like John Carlos, Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, Jim Brown and Dr. Harry Edwards, voiced support.
The debate continued to burn throughout the week and even spread to Kaepernick’s socks. During three practices last month, Kaepernick wore socks containing cartoon images of pigs wearing police hats. The quarterback took to his Instagram account to write that the socks were meant to mock “rogue cops” who “put the cops that have the right intentions in danger by creating an environment of tension and mistrust.”
Kaepernick said he has two uncles as well as friends who are police officers.
Boyer, meanwhile, had a short stint as a long snapper with the Seahawks a year ago, and earlier that season tried out for the 49ers. In his letter to Kaepernick, Boyer said he grew up a 49ers fan and has been rooting for Kaepernick since he became a starter in 2012. He acknowledged his initial reaction to Kaepernick’s stance was anger.
“There are already plenty people fighting fire with fire, and it’s just not helping anyone or anything,” Boyer wrote for the Army Times. “So I’m just going to keep listening, with an open mind. I look forward to the day you’re inspired to once again stand during our national anthem. I’ll be standing right there next to you. Keep on trying.”
Kaepernick invited Boyer to stand with the 49ers on their sideline; the two reportedly had a 90-minute conversation before Thursday’s game.
In Philadelphia, a rookie linebacker named Myke Tavarres initially said he would follow Kaepernick’s lead and sit during the national anthem before a game against the Jets. Tavarres, however, apparently changed his mind and was standing with the rest of the Eagles and Jets players Thursday.