There was no indication that the quarterback became America’s most polarizing sports star. Perhaps it was because the then-injured Kaepernick was not wearing his San Francisco 49ers uniform that summer night in Houston.
Six days later, in a home game with the Denver Broncos, Kaepernick was still hurt, still protesting, but fans, journalists, the 49ers, the NFL and their owners still didn’t know a storm was coming.
But on August 26, after a game against the Green Bay Packers, a reporter took a closer look at a picture of the 49ers and noticed Kaepernick sitting alone near the coolers as everyone else around him stood up while playing the anthem. .
Questions were asked. Word spread. Kaepernick became the most talked about athlete in America. A villain for some, a hero for others.
“I’m not going to stand up to show pride in a flag of a country that oppresses blacks and people of color,” Kaepernick, 28, told Steve Wyche of NFL.com, the man who told the story.
“For me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish of me to look the other way.”
“There are dead bodies on the street and people who are paid licenses and run away with the murder.”
Stand up against injustice
This was a star quarterback in the most popular sports league in America. A black man with a black birth father and a white birth mother, adopted by white parents who raised him in the predominantly white city of Turlock in Northern California, drawing attention to police brutality.
For the 49ers’ fourth preseason game, Kaepernick knelt during the anthem; teammate Eric Reid joined him.
The same night, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks sat down for the anthem. Days later, Megan Rapinoe was the first white athlete to kneel, she did so before a professional football game, and on September 9 Brandon Marshall of the Denver Broncos became the first NFL player to do so in a regular season game. .
Emboldened critics, inspired supporters
Two years later, Kaepernick is unemployed after giving up his contract in March 2017 before the 49ers could release him and has maintained great public silence for the past 12 months. But he is more powerful than ever.
But he was back in the spotlight this week when it was revealed that Kaepernick, a Nike athlete since 2011 but who didn’t appear in his campaigns since his departure from the NFL, would be the poster boy for the Just Do It ad for the 30th anniversary of the company.
With a black-and-white image of the kneeling quarterback turned activist overlaid with the nine words: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” Kaepernick has returned to the forefront of public debate. He didn’t have to say a word or make a single move.
In recent days, his followers have been inspired, his critics have been emboldened.
Whether most conservative white billionaire owners in the NFL like it or not, Kaepernick is the face of the league that the player himself believes put him on the blacklist.
A global icon
The man who would spend his time as a gamer silently attending lectures at the University of California, Berkeley, to learn about black history is a cultural star, who is fast becoming a global icon.
“He is monumentally more famous than ever as a player,” Nate Boyer, a former American footballer and green beret, told CNN Sport.
“He is probably one of the biggest icons in pop culture, at least outside of the sport that exists, and it’s all due to the protests, it really has nothing to do with soccer.”
Boyer admits he didn’t think the problem would get as big as it has been, but he urges Americans to “be smarter” and asks that the man who is now known by a simple silent gesture be more vocal.
“Really believing that half of our country is stupid and that your side has all the answers and that the other half has no idea is ignorant,” he says, answering one of the hundreds of questions asked him this week in Kaepernick. The couple hasn’t spoken for a while, though.
“I want to get back to unity in this country. I think Colin can be a big part of bringing us together, but it’s going to lead him to express himself, get involved with people on both sides of a problem and get through it.”
“I know Colin can do that because he did it to me, so he’s capable of that. More Americans need to see that because we don’t see it, we only see reactions to one side of the story. I would continue to encourage him to be part of it.”
‘The Muhammad Ali of his generation’
At the time Kaepernick met Boyer, the player was as much a part of public speaking as the presidential election, and made headlines with his words and actions.
Described as “the Muhammad Ali of this generation” by civil rights activist Harry Edwards, Kaepernick promised to donate $ 1 million of his salary to various organizations and continued speaking, saying that “the police are given permission to kill people. That is not correct. That is not correct by anyone’s standards. ”
The NFL has tried to have the case dismissed, but last month the arbitrator determined that Kaepernick’s attorneys had unearthed enough credible evidence to allow the case to proceed to a full hearing. It will certainly keep Kaepernick in the news during the NFL season.
There are no shades of gray when it comes to Kaepernick. Everyone has an opinion. Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president of Iran, tweeted this week: “… unfortunately once again @ Kaepernick7 is not on the NFL list. Although he is one of the best quarterbacks in the league.”
Although his form dropped from his starring role against the New England Patriots in 2012, leading the 49ers to the playoffs and ultimately the SuperBowl, statistics suggest that Kaepernick is still good enough for the NFL. He threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2016, while in November he had the best performance of a 49ers quarterback in the first half since Steve Young in 1997.
A lot has happened to the young player who led to “Kaepernicking” during the 2012 season, a reference to the act of kissing his tattooed biceps to celebrate a touchdown. Those tattoos led a columnist to compare him to an inmate, his first brush with being the cause of the fury.
A global platform
Of course, Kaepernick is not the first black athlete to oppose social injustice and suffer as a consequence.
Craig Hodges was a Chicago Bulls sniper and spoke openly on a range of issues, from poverty in the black community to the Gulf War.
He appeared at the White House congratulatory ceremony in a long-running dashiki with an eight-page letter to President George Bush. He was cut by the Bulls that offseason and never played in the NBA again.
And there is “The Greatest”, Muhammad Ali, who refused to fight in Vietnam. The heavyweight champion was stripped of his crown and reduced to making a paid appearance at a nautical show in his hometown of Louisville, his passport and his ability to earn a living were taken from him.
In the absence of football, the Nike deal gives Kaepernick a global platform, and such significant backing will likely give other athletes more strength to defend their convictions at a time when the country’s most commercially viable stars are on the move. open opposition to the President. Athletes may have more power than they think.
“What this could mean is that there is room for athletes to be a part of this conversation about race and social justice without risking their endorsements and I think that is important,” said Professor Louis Moore, associate professor of history. at the Grand Valley State University of Michigan. , he tells CNN Sport.
“I hope it also gives companies the same confidence to support athletes. They will see that perhaps having an athlete who is politically engaged is not a bad thing.”
But Kaepernick’s voice could have been louder, Moore says.
“Kap remained silent for a year. He could have taken advantage of the 24 hours of news, social media, but he remained silent,” he explains.
“Ali, he was active, he toured, he was on the news, he was on the radio. Kap was silent for a year. In that sense, he has the ability to have a bigger platform due to social media, but he didn’t . use it.
“But he will always be in that conversation about those key figures, Ali, Smith … He is part of the story, in a good way too.”
Stronger message than ever
In the past two years, Kaepernick’s behavior has not been perfect: he has worn socks with cartoon pigs in a police uniform, a T-shirt with former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, and was widely criticized for revealing that he did not vote in the elections. 2016. But it has been successful in affecting the national dialogue.
“It forced us to have a conversation about race, racism and police brutality and it forced people to struggle with this reality that these things exist in the United States,” says Moore.
“Every time a black athlete speaks, he highlights the problems. That is their impact. It is a conversation that has been going on for two years. It will be an ongoing conversation. This is where we are as a nation.”
“Kaepernick will be part of that conversation for a while because of Nike and also because the NFL has started. That conversation about criminal justice and police brutality is front and center in the United States right now, not just for Kapernick but because we have cameras and we watch all this all the time on social media, in the news, and that’s something we have to deal with as a country. “
At the beginning of his protest, Kaepernick said: “I am not looking for approval. I have to defend the oppressed people. If they take away the football, they support me, I know that I defended what is right.” “
Soccer has been taken away, the game continues without it, but its message is stronger than ever.