An impassioned Colin Kaepernick didn’t back down on his controversial move to sit during the national anthem, saying Sunday he’ll continue to do so to bring attention to what he says are injustices, particularly police brutality, in this country.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick said in front of his locker Sunday while teammates looked on. “To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
The 49ers held a players-only meeting before practice in which the quarterback was invited to explain his views. Some weren’t aware that Kaepernick had been sitting during the singing of the anthem in the first three preseason games because he was behind them on the bench.
Center Daniel Kilgore said he initially took offense when he heard about Kaepernick’s protest. After all, Kilgore has family and friends in the military, and sitting during the national anthem seemed to be a slight against those who serve.
“But after Kap stated his case today, and seeing where he was coming from, I do stand with Kap when he says enough is enough against crime and violence and racism and discrimination,” Kilgore said. “I believe that enough is enough.”
He continued: “For me, I’m going to stand (during the anthem) every time. I’m going to think about and honor those who are fighting and those who have fought, my family members, my friends. If Kap decides not to, that’s his decision.”
Wide receiver Torrey Smith had a similar take.
“When I think of the national anthem, I think of the soldiers, the soldiers that have died for our rights, and a right that he exercised,” Smith said. “So I get why people are mad. I’m not (as) focused on how he did it, but the message he’s trying to send is important. We have real issues in society that need to be addressed. That was his way of standing up for it. I respect his right. Again, whether I agree with what he did or not – that’s not something I would do, but he did it.”
Kaepernick said he wasn’t out to bash the military.
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” he said. “I have friends, I have family that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom. They fight for the people. They fight for liberty and justice. And that’s not happening. I mean, people are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end up of the bargain as far as giving freedom and liberty and justice to everybody.”
The 49ers have a game Thursday in San Diego, home to the largest naval fleet in the world. It’s not clear if Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert, the two quarterbacks competing for the 49ers’ starting job, will play in the contest.
The players interviewed Sunday characterized their meeting as productive. Kaepernick said he wouldn’t ask anyone to join him in his protest.
“I know there’s other players that feel the same way. I’ve had other players reach out to me,” he said. “(But) it’s not something I’m going to ask them to put their necks out. I know the consequences that come along with my decision, and if they feel strongly and want to stand with me, then I hope they do. If it’s something they’re not ready for, then that’s what the conversations are for, and they can make that decision when they’re ready or if they’re ready.”
Kaepernick said his thoughts about racial injustices have been forming for years. The normally taciturn quarterback spoke for 18 minutes Sunday. During the session, he acknowledged he has the means – he’s earning roughly $12 million this season – to express his views that other players might not have.
“But I can’t look in the mirror and see other people dying in the street that should have the same opportunities that I’ve had and say, ‘You know what? I can live with myself,’ ” he said.
When asked specifically what he wants changed in this country, he cited police brutality. Kaepernick closely follows the Black Lives Matter movement, which began in 2013 to protest violence against black Americans, especially at the hands of law enforcement.
“You have people that practice law and are lawyers and go to school for eight years, but you can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist,” he said. “That’s insane. Someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun and are going out on the street to protect us.”
The quarterback said he’s gotten plenty of support since his protest became public. He’s also been barraged by criticism. The timeline on his Twitter account is brimming with those who wish he’ll get cut, get hurt or worse. He’s been a hot topic on sports talk radio over the weekend and likely will continue to be one this week. Kaepernick said he didn’t plan for his protest to “blow up” the way it did and said he didn’t want to be the focus of discussions. But he said the attention is “a good thing.”
“It brings awareness,” he said. “Everybody knows what’s going on, and this sheds more light on it. Now, I think people are really talking about it.”