Facing 4th and Forever: When Speaking Out is Deemed Out of Bounds

It’s been more than two years since Colin Kaepernick last played in an NFL game. While the game may have moved on without him, his presence continues to loom large over the sport.

Back in 2016 Kaepernick was spotted sitting during the national anthem of an NFL preseason game. Perhaps because he was injured and in street clothes, nobody noticed. When he did it again in his team uniform the following week, a reporter asked him about it and he answered the question truthfully. What ensued was one of most heated and public debates about race, sports, and society in decades.

It seemed as if there were as many opinions on Kaepernick and his stance towards the anthem as there are pancake choices at your local diner. Some applauded Kaepernick for taking a stance against police brutality and bringing an important issue to the forefront, while others found it wholly disrespectful to the flag to not be standing during the national anthem. How you felt about the issue often seemed to coincide with one’s race and life experiences — with not just police — but America as a whole.

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The NFL for it’s part wanted no part of the controversy. While other players joined with Kap in his protest, the league wanted to outlaw kneeling or sitting during the anthem all together. Though that proposal was shelved, the NFL did not want people kneeling during the national anthem and rather instead stay in the locker rooms, far from public view.

As for Kaepernick himself? He’s effectively been blackballed by the league ever since his protest and hasn’t played a game since the 2016 season. Many pundits claimed it was due to the fact that he was no longer an effective quarterback. That’s hard to imagine considering he literally was a few throws away from winning a Super Bowl back in 2013. Kaepernick for his part, has sued the NFL claiming that they have unfairly kept him out of the league due to his protest and not his ability. The case is still playing out in court.

 

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Members of the Oakland Raiders sitting during the national anthem before a game in 2017 after President Trump called NFL players ‘SOBs.’

Kaepernick meanwhile has not been content to just sit on the sidelines and let time pass. He has continued to use his money to donate and fund worthy causes. In 2017 he won the Ambassador of Conscience award from Amnesty International for his protest against police brutality and racial injustice. Last year, he was featured in an ad from Nike which was and ode to him that ran under the tag line: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

As America gets ready for yet another Super Bowl today, it seems many people have already moved passed this issue. NFL ratings actually went up this past season perhaps deflating the narrative that people would be leaving in droves. However, the fact that a man who protested social injustice has effectively been kicked out the league, has not gone unnoticed by athletes and entertainers outside the NFL. More than ever, athletes are speaking out. Whether the larger public actually wants to listen to their pleas and the effects it may have on their careers, will be interesting to see moving forward.