San Francisco 49ers

49ers hope to show divided nation a measure of unity on Sunday

Taking a knee: How Colin Kaepernick started an NFL movement

It all started with sitting down during the anthem, which no one noticed at first. Here's how quarterback Colin Kaepernick's anthem protest turned into a pivotal movement for the NFL and its players.
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It all started with sitting down during the anthem, which no one noticed at first. Here's how quarterback Colin Kaepernick's anthem protest turned into a pivotal movement for the NFL and its players.

Brian Hoyer said Wednesday he wishes everyone could be part of a football team at some point in their lives. Because if they had that opportunity, they’d have a better perspective on the anthem protests that, fueled by comments from President Donald Trump, again are roiling the country.

“If everybody got to experience playing and being in an NFL locker room for a year I think our country would be so much better,” the 49ers quarterback said. “You get to experience people from all different parts of the country: intercity, country, maybe grew up rich, maybe grew up dirt poor. I’ve played with guys that are Atheist, Christian, Muslim, Hispanic, black, whatever. The one thing is you get to know these people and enjoy them for who they are.”

More than 200 NFL players protested in some shape or form during their respective anthem ceremonies in Week 3, some to put a spotlight on racial injustice, others in a show of unity with those players after they were denounced by Trump.

Those protests did not include the 49ers, who began the movement last year when quarterback Colin Kaepernick, then safety Eric Reid and linebacker Eli Harold, declined to stand during the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The 49ers played on Thursday; Trump’s initial comments were made during a campaign rally Friday.

The 49ers said they haven’t decided how they will respond, but they are certain to make some sort of gesture before Sunday’s game in Glendale, Ariz., and they will do it as a team. Like their brethren on other teams, both the players and coach Kyle Shanahan said they were upset over what Trump said, which included calling protesting players “sons of b----s” and suggesting team owners fire them on the spot.

“It’s a very important, big position to be the leader of our country and when you hear something like that, it definitely bothered me, especially when he’s calling out people that you’re associated with,” Shanahan said. “But the most bothersome thing is how everyone sees that position in our country and you expect that position to be the best leader possible and when I think of being a leader, I think of bringing people together. All I know is the quotes I read and when I read those quotes, I think that’s the opposite of what you’re expecting.”

Shanahan said he and general manager John Lynch met with the 10 members of San Francisco’s leadership council on Monday to discuss how they will react. He said the players still are figuring out the appropriate response but that he and Lynch asked they do it as a group.

“I anticipate us doing something together,” he said. “I think that’s really what it’s about.”

Reid said he continues to be frustrated with how many people, including the president, interpret his protest. On Wednesday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, echoing Trump, said the NFL should have a rule requiring players to stand during the anthem.

“I think it should be a formal rule of the league,” Sessions said on “Fox & Friends.” “They should be able to say to the players, ‘If you’re on our field, in our game, paid by us, you should respect the flag and the national anthem.’ 

It was Reid and former Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer who persuaded Kaepernick to begin kneeling – instead of sitting by himself on a bench behind his teammates – during the singing of the anthem.

Reid explained as much in an editorial in The New York Times this week. He said the gesture never was intended to disrespect the military or police and firemen and that he has family members who have served in the armed forces. Instead, he said he and Kaepernick want to highlight social justice issues, something he hopes Trump’s comments and subsequent tweets will bring into better focus.

“I think he provided us an opportunity to make something positive come out of it,” Reid said. “Again, I don’t know why he said that. I don’t know why a president would use that kind of language on any subject, but we’ve just got to be positive about it.”

Hoyer, meanwhile, said he went to high school at a nearly all-white Catholic boys school in Cleveland. His first real exposure to someone with a different background came during his freshman year in college.

“My first roommate at Michigan State was a black kid from inner-city Detroit and we got along great,” he said. “For me, it was such a cool experience because it was so different. You get to meet so many different people. And then you move on and you keep meeting other different people. I’ve played with guys from Germany, from the backwoods of Alabama, the inner city of Detroit.”

Hoyer said he may not kneel during the anthem on Sunday but has no issues with teammates who do.

“Having two kids at this time the way the world is going, it’s scary,” he said. “I think it’s becoming more and more divided. For us, if we can show some kind of unity as a team – I may not do the same thing that they do as far as taking a knee – but I can support them. That’s their right to do that.”

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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