JAMES CALABRESI ’20
In the fall of 2016, the name Colin Kaepernick was unknown, except among avid 49er fans who followed the preseason battle for starting quarterback between him and Blaine Gabbert. From the three preseason games played, however, an entirely different battle would begin, one that would cause Kaepernick’s name to ascend to the forefront of a national discussion about patriotism, race, and sports. The first two times Colin sat, the media did not report on it. Only on Aug 26th 2016, when Kaepernick sat while surrounded by his standing teammates and staff, did a photograph raise some questions. Jennifer Lee Chan of Niners Nation caught Kaepernick on camera, sitting, while everyone around him stood for the National Anthem. Lee Chan’s subsequent tweet of the moment raised a flurry of reporters, all of whom asked for permission to use the picture on air.
Following the game, the 49ers released a statement confirming that Kaepernick had remained seated during the anthem. This led to Kaepernick’s initial message to the press. Kaepernick initially stated that “When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” By September 1st, Kaepernick was joined by San Francisco safety Eric Reid, who took a knee during the game’s anthem. At the same time, in another football game, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks sat during his game’s National Anthem. Kaepernick decided to answer the criticism that had been leveled to him about disrespecting the military by kneeling instead of sitting, as a sign of deference for those in service. To prove that he was committed to making tangible improvements rather than just symbolic ones he donated $1 million to charities that focus on racial issues. Since these early days, the movement has exploded, with many more players choosing to either hold a fist in the air as a sign of black power while standing (which lends a more measured approach to their support for Kaepernick’s cause) or simply join him with one knee on the ground outright.
This explosion has extended to various sports, such as soccer and basketball. A soccer player Megan Rapinoe knelt, citing her own minority status as a gay woman as a reason why she knows “what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties.” Basketball, with the support of higher profile players, harnessed some serious attention when Lebron James tweeted out a defense of Stephen Curry from Donald Trump. Curry, a prominent NBA player, declined President Trump’s invitation to the White House after Trump called Colin Kaepernick a S.O.B. during a rally in Alabama. Trump, who tried to get ahead of the backlash over his strong statement, said that Curry was, “hesitating,” and, therefore, the invitation was, “withdrawn.” James’ statement, which earned 1.5 million likes (the twelfth highest liked tweet of all time), was: “U bum @StephenCurry30 already said he ain’t going! So therefore ain’t no invite. Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!” This twitterstorm sparked a great deal of interest, leading to wave after wave of players taking to their knees. In the latest evolution of the debate over whether kneeling is a patriotic act or not, President Trump praised NASCAR drivers for keeping their sport separated from politics. This caused one of the most popular athletes of the sport, Dale Earnhardt Jr., to respond,“All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable-JFK.” As President Trump encourages supporters to stop watching NFL, and as the #KneelwithKaep encourages a boycott over no NFL team signing Kaepernick, the only ones who will lose are the sponsors and the franchises.