Colin Kaepernick did not stand during the national anthem Friday because he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told the NFL Network’s Steve Wyche after the game.
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick said. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The 49ers quarterback has been outspoken on his Twitter and Instagram account about racial issues, including the Black Lives Matter movement, over the last year. The movement began in 2013 to protest violence against black Americans, especially at the hands of law enforcement.
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His most recent retweet, on Friday, was of a New York Daily News story about Arizona teens who were told to remove Black Lives Matter shirts. Other posts have been more forceful, including one following the shooting death of Alton Sterling, 37, in Baton Rouge, La., last month.
“This is what lynchings look like in 2016!” Kaepernick wrote on Instagram along with a video of Sterling’s shooting. “Another murder in the streets because the color of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us. When will they be held accountable? Or did he fear for his life as he executed this man?”
The NFL issued a statement Saturday saying that players are “encouraged but not required” to stand during the anthem. Coach Chip Kelly echoed the statement the 49ers put out Friday that said the team would not discourage Kaepernick’s seated protest, which Kelly said occurred before the Aug. 20 game against the Broncos as well as Friday’s vs. the Packers.
Said Kelly: “We recognize his right to do that. It’s not our right to tell him not to do something. That’s his right as a citizen.”
Kelly also said Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem has no bearing on his depth-chart status. “He’s competing with Blaine (Gabbert) to see who our starting quarterback is going to be,” he said. The two have competed for the role since training camp opened, although Kaepernick missed the first two preseason games because of a sore throwing shoulder.
Kelly said none of Kaepernick’s teammates had complained to him about the protest. “No one has expressed anything,” he said. “We’ll talk about it as a team. We’re off today. But we’ll talk about it (Sunday).”
The reaction on social media to Kaepernick’s gesture was mixed. Some shrugged and noted it’s his right to express himself and take a stand against a matter. Others recoiled and railed at what they viewed as an insult to the nation, especially those who risked their lives for it.
Colton Underwood, a tight end for the Raiders, tweeted a picture of the American flag along with the words, “respect.” His head coach, Jack Del Rio, replied to that image with, “I Appreciate the sacrifices of the brave who have fought for our freedom. We R Free to choose. I choose to (love the flag) !!”
Neither mentioned Kaepernick or the 49ers, but those who responded to their messages had no trouble making a connection. Wrote one: “Kaep needs to stop disrespecting the millions who has served & are serving for his freedom to make millions!”
Kaepernick told the NFL Network he knows his actions will be scrutinized.
“I am not looking for approval,” he said. “I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
During the 1990s, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf gained notoriety for refusing to stand during the national anthem because he said it conflicted with his religious beliefs. The NBA suspended him for one game in 1996 for his refusal to stand. Three months later, the Denver Nuggets traded him to the Kings. The NFL’s statement suggests Kaepernick won’t face any discipline for his actions.
Kaepernick requested the 49ers trade him in February and a month later nearly was dealt to the Broncos. The quarterback, however, declined to take a sizable pay cut, and the deal fell through. He has been at odds with San Francisco’s front office since last season, prompting some to wonder whether the 49ers will cut him before the regular season begins.
He is guaranteed to earn $11.9 million this season, but if he were cut, he would not receive another $2 million in roster bonuses. Kelly was asked Friday, before the quarterback’s anthem protest became public, about the prospect of cutting Kaepernick.
“We’ve never had a conversation about that,” Kelly said. “That’s never come up. There’s never been a conversation about cutting Colin Kaepernick.”