The 2017 NFL regular season is underway. Star athletes have taken the field, ready to showcase their talent and abilities as well as demonstrate the improvements they have made during the long and grueling offseason. Last year’s records are erased; it’s a fresh start. A new season carries a different meaning for every player and team. For rookie running back Leonard Fournette, this season is his chance to revive the Jacksonville offense which struggled in 2016 despite their solid defense. For last year’s MVP, veteran quarterback Matt Ryan, this season is his chance to make a strong campaign for a deep run in the playoffs and display resilience after the ultimate Super Bowl hangover (hint: 28-3). For the Cleveland Browns, this season is almost bound to reach or exceed expectations as last year, the team narrowly escaped a winless season, beating the Chargers in Week 16. In general, players feel excited and optimistic entering the new season. However, one player stands alone. He has led the San Francisco 49ers to back to back NFC Championship games, but now he doesn’t even make the sidelines. He is Colin Kaepernick.
It’s common to see politics and social issues reflect on the world of sports. For instance, baseball, America’s pastime, has been reflective of various time periods, telling American history from a unique perspective. Before the 2016 NFL season, Colin Kaepernick’s decision to remain sitting during the national anthem was a clear and obvious reflection of the Black Lives Movement and racial division we continue to experience today. Kaepernick’s actions quickly gained national attention. During a postgame interview, Kaepernick explained his opposition to standing during the anthem stating, “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.” Later on in the preseason, Kaepernick decided to kneel during the national anthem rather than sit in order to show more respect towards former and active U.S. military members. Nevertheless, Kaepernick continued protesting until he felt that the American flag was representative of equality and justice for all races.
Ironically, Kaepernick’s actions to push for peace among all races became polarizing as people took their opinions publicly, either supporting or opposing him. Fans began boycotting the NFL as the 2016 NFL season saw a significant drop in television ratings. On the other hand, Kaepernick received death threats, and one anonymous NFL executive called Kaepernick “a traitor.” Other athletes followed Kaepernick’s footsteps such as Megan Rapinoe, a member of the U.S. women’s national soccer team, by taking a knee and even raising their fist like 1968 Olympics Black Power salute during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Various players across the NFL have also backed Kaepernick.
Despite the fact Kaepernick is out of the league, players continue to kneel during the anthem. Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and 49ers safety Eric Reid and some of their teammates have joined Kaepernick’s silent protest. Before a preseason game against the Giants, the Browns tight end Seth DeValve became the first NFL white player to protest during the national anthem. Just a week prior to the preseason game, Bennett called for white players to join the national anthem protest. More importantly, DeValve didn’t kneel alone; nearly a dozen players on the Browns kneeled beside him.
At the end of the day, Kaepernick is unemployed. Although he has struggled in the last few seasons offensively, he remains a threat for any NFL team. For Aaron Rodgers, Kaepernick’s unemployment is as simple as black and white. Rodgers told ESPN The Magazine’s Mina Kimes, “I think he should be on a roster right now. I think because of his protests he’s not. Rodgers went on to say, “I don’t understand what it’s like to be in that situation. What it is to be pulled over, or profiled, or any number of issues that have happened, that Colin was referencing – or any of my teammates have talked to me about… But I know it’s a real thing my black teammates have to deal with.”
Regardless of your stance on Kaepernick’s actions, he has proven to help those in need. On September 15, the NFLPA awarded Kaepernick with a service award, citing the quarterback’s donation of $900,000 to various charities, including Meals on Wheels. Furthermore, Kaepernick donated $25,000 each to DREAM, Coalition for the Homeless, The Gathering for Justice’s War on Children, and United We Dream. This is the attention Kaepernick deserves. Although his actions may have been controversial, he has the right ideology. Did he go too far by sitting during the national anthem? That’s for you to decide, but it’s definitely an eye-opener… I believe people have misinterpreted his actions. He’s not protesting the flag; he’s pushing for a better world.