San Francisco 49ers

On 49ers: Kneeling Kaepernick becomes national symbol

Colin Kaepernick, who once posed nude for ESPN magazine’s ‘Body Issue’ and whose most famous gesture used to be kissing his biceps, is on the cover of TIME magazine – in his 49ers uniform, kneeling during the national anthem.

Readers who want their sports news tidily separate from their national news – I go to the sports page to escape politics! – will be disappointed. Most stories fade after two or three days in the news. This one keeps expanding, and kneeling Kaepernick continues to grow as a symbol.

Many predicted he would be widely disdained like NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was when he protested the anthem in the 1990s. They were wrong. Kaepernick not only is attracting more support by the day, those backing him are doing so with increasingly forceful language.

“He’s shedding light on a situation that is heinous and shouldn’t happen in this country,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said Thursday. “We all have inalienable rights as a citizen in this country, and they’re being violated. And I think that’s what Colin is standing up for.”

Said Warriors coach Steve Kerr a day earlier: “No matter what side of the spectrum you’re on, I would hope that every American is disgusted with what is going on around the country.”

Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin held a news conference Thursday in which he called on all 50 state attorneys general to review their police training policies. Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett, who last year mocked Kaepernick by kissing his own bicep following a sack of the quarterback, also spoke out for change.

“I think people were so caught up in the flag that they forgot about the message of social injustice,” he said.

Those words are different than the cautious – “We encourage everyone to stand but recognize that he has a right not to” – statements released by teams and by the NFL beginning three weeks ago, or the charged rhetoric that Kaepernick should find a better country if he’s so upset with this one.

Recent events in Tulsa, Okla., and Charlotte, N.C., have silenced that element and refocused attention not on Kaepernick’s anthem actions but why he’s doing them.

“I think the message is finally getting out there,” said safety Eric Reid, who has knelt beside Kaepernick for three games. “People are starting to see it and stop making excuses for it. And hopefully we can finally make a change with it.”

Charlotte, where Kaepernick was booed just four days ago, is under a state of emergency after a police shooting there Tuesday sparked two nights of protest. Some of the those on the streets have chosen kneeling, a la Kaepernick, as their form of protest.

The Panthers are set to host the Vikings on Sunday at a stadium that’s only a few blocks from where police and protesters have clashed. As of now, the game is scheduled to go on as planned, but other downtown events have been canceled because of the unrest. The Panthers issued a statement Thursday that they will “monitor events” as they prepare for the game.

Kelly, meanwhile, said the line between activism and sports has not been blurred in the day-to-day operations of his team.

He hasn’t addressed the 49ers players about national anthem protests, leaving it up to the locker room to handle that business, which it did two days after Kaepernick’s protest became public.

Kaepernick has spoken to the media after games and on Tuesdays. But he has granted no national sit-downs and did not conduct an interview with TIME. The cover photo wasn’t posed; it was taken before the 49ers’ Week 1 game against the Rams.

“When he’s here, he’s doing football,” Kelly said. “We’re here from 8:15 in the morning until 5 when we leave, (and) he’s at every meeting. He’s done everything. There hasn’t been any, ‘Hey, coach, I need time because I’ve got this going on.’ He hasn’t done that. He understands what his job is, and he’s balanced it really well.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at