What doing the right thing costs Kaepernick vs. NCAA

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is embracing sports’ longtime role as an agent for societal change.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is embracing sports’ longtime role as an agent for societal change. The Associated Press

Throughout his unexpected foray into social justice activism, Colin Kaepernick has kept his cool, calmly explaining again and again why he won’t stand for the national anthem.

That is until Monday, when after a sound defeat of the sorry L.A. Rams, the 49ers quarterback flared at the suggestion that he should “sit in the shadows,” rather than protest racial injustice and police brutality.

“That’s one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve heard,” he told reporters. “To me, you’re telling me that my position and being quiet is more important than people’s lives.”

It’s not – not for Kaepernick or any other athlete. To suggest otherwise is to ignore the long and uncomfortable history of sports as platform for social change.

But like sports teams and athletes, some causes have more fans than others. Some are just more palatable to the masses. Monday was a reminder of that.

There was Kaepernick who, once again, knelt during the national anthem, continuing a protest that has rankled more than a few military veterans and self-styled patriots. But this time, he wasn’t alone.

Eric Reid, a 49ers safety, knelt down. Teammates Antoine Bethea and Eli Harold raised their fists in a Black Power salute, and across the field, Rams players Kenny Britt and Robert Quinn did the same.

Anxious black athletes made similar gestures before several NFL games on Sunday. Without a doubt, Kaepernick has started a movement.

But fans at Levi’s Stadium booed the backup quarterback anyway as he ran onto the field Monday night and then broke into chants of “USA! USA! USA!”

There was no such anger over an equally bold move by the NCAA on Monday. Responding to public pressure, the college sports behemoth said it will yank seven tournament games from North Carolina over a law that discriminates against transgender athletes.

It’s just the latest battle that the Republican-led state has lost over House Bill 2, which requires people in schools and state government buildings to use the bathrooms of their biological sex, not gender identity. The NBA moved its All-Star Game and companies, including PayPal, have pulled back or severed ties with the state in recent months.

“For our university presidents,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said on CBS, “this was a proverbial no-brainer.” Praise of the decision has been effusive.

Indeed, taking nonviolent stands in pursuit of justice is always the right thing to do. But in social activism, as in sports, there are always winners and losers.