Hugh Webster, The Miami Student
Colin Kaepernick has made national headlines since the beginning of the National Football League preseason, but not because of his play as quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers. Kaepernick has knelt during the national anthem played before each game, and this action has caused commotion and discussion around the league and country, putting him in the national spotlight.
"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. Other players have seen Kaepernick's protest and joined the movement by both kneeling and raising their fists during the anthem.
In recent weeks, Kaepernick has been joined in kneeling by teammates Eli Harold and Eric Reed. During the 49ers' week 6 game against the Buffalo Bills, the national anthem was followed by chants of "USA", as well as booing from the crowd at New Era Field. Part of this could be attributed to the fact that prior to this game, 49er head coach Chip Kelly announced that Kaepernick would make his first start of the season over previous starter Blaine Gabbert, who had led the 49ers to a 1-4 start.
The USA chant by the Buffalo crowd was the first time a crowd clearly reacted towards Kaepernick during a game, as most criticism has been via social media. Outside of the stadium before the game, t-shirts reading "Wanted: Notorious Disgrace to America" and "Shut Up and Stand Up!" were for sale. There were also fans tackling a dummy with a Kaepernick jersey on. Fans will always find a reason to try and get in players' heads, but Kaepernick has been calm and mature about handling hecklers.
He is also not the first athlete to not stand during the national anthem in protest. In 1996, Denver Nuggets player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended one-game from the NBA for not standing during the national anthem. If these racial issues around the country continue, there will be more protests like Abdul-Rauf's and Kaepernick's and will further cause a major divide in the sports world and country.
Many NBA players, including Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony, as well as many WNBA players, have also spoken out after recent civil rights issues around the United States. While they have made statements about these issues, Kaepernick has received the most publicity because of his outspoken statements and protest.
There have also been numerous high school players across the country who have taken a knee during the national anthem and other NFL players that have linked arms during the anthem, showing their support for Kaepernick. A lot of support has been expressed towards Kaepernick, including his jersey skyrocketing to the most popular of all NFL jerseys despite being a backup for the first five weeks of the season. On the other hand, many Americans are very against his protest, calling it unpatriotic and disrespectful.
The popularity of this protest has caused Kaepernick to take all of the spotlight away from the 49ers as a team. In his press conference after the Bills game, the focus was more about his actions off the field than on it. If he keeps this up, it could cause a problem between him and his teammates and could be an unnecessary distraction for the 49ers that may lead to more losses and a disappointing season. The spreading of the protest also could cause conflicts within other teams and be a huge distraction in the league.
Some support Kaepernick's protest because of their perception of systematic oppression and police brutality around the country. Additionally, according to a poll in the New York Daily News, 65% of people between the ages of 18 and 29 believe that not standing during the anthem "demonstrates the freedoms that the anthem represents." The protest has spread around the league to other teams and most likely will continue until either the players stop the movement or the league intervenes.
For now, Kaepernick needs to focus on his play as a quarterback more than anything to try and lead San Francisco to some wins this season. Kaepernick suffered his second straight loss as a starter this past weekend to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 17-34, as the 49ers fall to 1-5.