Colin Kaepernick. Photo: Ben Margot, Associated Press
With police brutality and racial injustice becoming definitive issues of this generation, many have discussed whether celebrities and athletes should use their visibility to speak up. During this NFL preseason, Colin Kaepernick has taken a stand.
The quarterback refused to stand for the United States national anthem before Friday night’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. When the NFL media questioned him about it, he made a statement that was even more clear.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “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.”
“I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed,” he continued. “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
The 49ers issued a statement as well, saying that while the national anthem is “a special part of the pre-game ceremony,” that it “recognize(s) the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.” The NFL also released a statement saying that while players are encouraged to stand during the national anthem, that Kaepernick didn’t break any rules with his protest. Reporter Adam Schefter noted that Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem in the first two preseason games either, but that few people noticed because he wasn’t in uniform.
Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand for National Anthem in first 2 preseason games, either: few noticed because he wasn’t in uniform, didn’t play.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 27, 2016
Athletes have been using their celebrities in various ways to protest police brutality and social issues impacting people of color. WNBA teams wore black shirts to make a statement, and LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul spoke up at the ESPY Awards and have used their social media platforms to speak up. Anthony seems to be emerging as a possible leader in the field; he recently hosted a meeting in Los Angeles to discuss police shootings. Even Michael Jordan, who has a reputation for being notoriously silent regarding social justice issues, released a statement and donated money to the NAACP Defense Fund and an organization focused on community policing.
But historically, refusing to stand for the national anthem is especially controversial for athletes. Former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf comes to mind. When refused to stand for the anthem in 1996, the NBA suspended him for a game. He later compromised to stand for the anthem and to silently pray to himself, but he has said in interviews that the controversy hurt his ability to get signed to other teams.
Kaepernick has had a rough past few seasons, but with his Super Bowl run in 2012 and subsequent media blitz, he is the most popular athlete to protest the national anthem since Abdul-Rauf. We’ll see if this national anthem controversy has an impact on his career moving forward.
is a journalist who covers music, pop culture, film/TV, race, culture and social justice. He is an editor at Okayplayer, and his work has appeared in Complex, Billboard, Guardian, NPR, MTV, Ebony, HipHopDX, The Flint Journal-MLive, and other publications.