By Makenna Adams
Champion football player, social justice advocate, and activist of the Black Lives Matter movement—Colin Kaepernick deserves recognition for his undeniable skill, integrity, and compassion.
On the football field, Kaepernick has demonstrated profound talent throughout his career. Making moves at the University of Nevada, Reno as a Division 1 student-athlete, Kaepernick earned the award of Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Offensive Player of the Year twice. Impressive, he remains the only player in NCAA Division I Football history to amass 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards in a career.
Bay Area residents will know that Kaepernick began professional career in 2011 after getting selected in the second round of the NFL drafts. Beginning as a backup quarterback to Alex Smith for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, Kaepernick displayed athletic promise; upon selecting Kapernick for the Niners, then-coach Jim Harbaugh commented on Kaepernick’s determined nature: “he really competes well.” In 2012, Kaepernick secured his position as the Niners’ regular starting quarterback. Dominating the league with a passing rate of 98.3 and rushing 415 yards, Kaeperick led his team to play in its first Super Bowl since 1994.
While Kaepernick boasts impressive stats and astounding dexterity as a football player, in recent years he has become recognized as a pioneering advocate for social justice. Before the third game of the 2016 preseason, Kaepernick garnered attention for his first, large-scale, public act of activism: sittin for the National Anthem. Protesting police brutality, racism, and systematic oppression, Kaepernick immediately garnered attention from the press, fans, the NFL, and newly-elected President Trump. In the weeks and games that ensued, he continued his act of protest, later kneeling in place of sitting during the anthem. Several of his team mates, chiefly safetyman Eric Reid, joined him, as did 11 other NFL athletes. Although Kaepernick received praise from fellow activists following his protest, he received an overwhelming amount of backlash from opposers. Attention to his actions intensified after Trump denounced Kaepernick’s activism and said any player who acted similarly should “be fired from the NFL.” Cries to “ban the unpatriotic NFL!” began to ring across the U.S. Refusing to consider the players’ genuine reasons for protest, Trump repeatedly condemned their acts as ones of disregard for patriotism, the flag, and the national anthem—labeleing them as “totally disrespectful of our heritage.” Unyielding, Trump ignored the Kaepernick’s requests for accountability in the judicial system and condemnation for acts of police brutality towards African-Americans, and instead demanded the NFL “get that son of a b**** off the field right now, out, he’s fired. He’s fired!” In the 2016 season, the NFL experienced an 8% decline in viewership. Based on a J.D. Power survey, 30% of fans cited the player protests as their reason for tuning out.
After initial backlash against his protests, Kaepernick donated $1 million to “organizations working in oppressed communities.” Continuing his donations until 2018, Kaepernick inspired other public figures to contribute funds to such organizations. Notably, he completed the final $100,000 fund of his “Million Dollar Pledge” in the form of $10,000 aids to different charities, to which other celebrities matched their donations.
Additionally, in 2016, Kaepernick and his partner Nessa established the “Know Your Rights Campaign.” The organization empowers disadvantaged youths by leading free seminars in American history, legal rights, and self-respect. Recently, Kaepernick’s organization has worked to aid minorities amid the COVID-19 pandemic; since the beginning of 2020, the Know Your Rights Camp has raised $1,004,535 for food, shelter relief, education, and personal protective equipment for black and brown communities. Kaepernick personally donated $100,000 to the fund. For his actions off the field, Kaepernick commands respect. While he has certainly had his fair share of criticism for his devotion to the BLM movement, his supporters have celebrated his actions. Deserving, Kaepernick received the Len Eshmont Award in 2016, awarded to him by his San Francisco teammates, as the player who best epitomized the “inspirational and courageous play of former 49er Len Eshmont.” In 2018, working as a free agent for a year after the NFL refused to draft him, Kaepernick partnered with Nike to release an ad featuring Kaepernick with the text, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Even after the media shifted focus from Kaepernick’s primary goal with his campaign—educating on gratuitous police brutality towards minorities, especially African-Americans—to the unpatriotic aspect of kneeling, Kaepernicked remained undaunted: he tirelessly speaks out against the injustice black and brown individuals face, donates extensively to relief funds, and passionately empowers disadvantaged youth. May his legacy live on.