49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, the now 28-year old player who rose to prominence during the 2012 season when he led his team to the Super Bowl, ended his 2015 season in relative disgrace, placed on the team's injured list. But this weekend, with his future on the team still in limbo, Kaepernick was put once again in the spotlight when he was questioned for his decision to sit during the national anthem before an NFL preseason game in Santa Clara against the Green Bay Packers.
Explaining himself, Kaepernick told NFL.com that “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
According to the league, "players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem," and 49ers coach Chip Kelly added to reports that "it's not my right to tell him not to do something."
The Associated Press reports that Kaepernick says he expected criticism for his outspoken position, but that he "did what's right." Twitter, as it does, offered a mixed response, with some praise among mostly criticism and threats. At least one apparently former fan went so far as to burn a Kaepernick jersey. Locally, the San Francisco Police Officers Organization saw fit to write an open letter addressed to the NFL Commissioner and the 49ers team president. That missive, picked up by CBS5, says that the player's actions display "an incredible lack of knowledge regarding our profession and officer-involved shootings, but also shows a naivety and total lack of sensitivity towards police officers.”
"I'll continue to sit," ABC 7 now quotes the quarterback as saying, apparently holding fast to his decision. "I'm going to continue to stand with the people. To me this is something that has to change and when there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent in this country, as representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand." Furthermore, Kaepernick says he failed to stand during the anthem at a previous preseason game, but wasn't noticed.
Sports pundits note that Kapernick's advocacy comes at a time when his future on the team is particularly precarious. "Regardless of politics or not, he has a very, very big uphill battle to make this team," FOX Sports' Jay Glazer said via NBC's Pro Football Talk
Kaepernick's move, which is not without historical precedent among black athletes, has also revived debate about the history of the national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." The song's rarely sung third verse, as the Intercept points out, includes lyrics penned by Francis Scott Key, a slave owner, that reference the death of slaves.
"There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust," Kaepernick continued in his statements. "People aren't being held accountable for. And that's something that needs to change. That's something that this country stands for — freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it's not happening for all right now."