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Colin Kaepernick tried to tell white America

Kap’s words and actions in 2016 are as important now as they were then

By Martenzie Johnson

There’s been a lot of misinformation and conjecture over the past four years when discussing former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision, in the summer of 2016, to sit and later kneel during the playing of the national anthem.

But let’s take it back to the beginning.

On Aug. 26, 2016, before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick was spotted by multiple media members sitting on the San Francisco 49ers team bench as “The Star-Spangled Banner” played ahead of kickoff. Immediately after the game, NFL Media reporter Steve Wyche asked the then-28-year-old about why he was sitting during the anthem.

Kaepernick responded: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. … 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.”

With the recent events taking place in Minneapolis following the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, and in Louisville, Kentucky, following the death of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, both at the hands of police officers, it’s important to go back to Kaepernick’s words and actions from 2016, especially as uprisings have taken part in multiple cities since Monday.

After Kaepernick’s quotes were published following the 2016 preseason game, there was immediate backlash from a sizable portion of the population. Kaepernick was labeled anti-cop, anti-military, so on and so forth. A league executive called him a “traitor.” Kaepernick received countless death threats. Despite helping lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl three years before his demonstration, Kaepernick hasn’t been signed to an NFL team since he became a free agent in 2017. All because his simple words – that law enforcement should be held accountable for killing citizens – urged white Americans to look at themselves in the mirror after centuries of being able to ignore the plight of black Americans.

What Kaepernick said and did was controversial, but only for those who see controversy in asking for basic human rights for African Americans that allegedly were afforded to them under the 14th Amendment nearly two centuries ago.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before an NFL game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, California, Oct. 2, 2016.MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ/AP PHOTO

The first three weeks after initially sitting for the national anthem, Kaepernick clearly explained to the media the reasoning behind his protest.

On what would make him stand for the anthem again: “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

On whether his message was against the armed forces: “The media painted this as I’m anti-American, anti-men and women of the military, and that’s not the case at all. I realize that men and women of the military go out and sacrifice their lives and put their selves in harm’s way for my freedom of speech and my freedoms in this country, and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee, so I have the utmost respect for them and I think what I did was taken out of context and spun a different way.”

On whom he was protesting for: “I couldn’t see another ‘hashtag Sandra Bland, hashtag Tamir Rice, hashtag Walter Scott, hashtag Eric Garner,’ the list goes on and on and on. … At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand and as a people say this isn’t right? You have a badge, yes. You’re supposed to be protecting us, not murdering us, and that’s what the issue really is and we need to change that.”

With those comments, Kaepernick wasn’t some “traitor.” Instead, he became a black light for identifying the racists who live among us.

Kaepernick precisely said police shouldn’t be able to kill unarmed black people without consequence. But some people in the country, when told of unlawful and racist actions by the police against black people, chose to ignore the “black people” portion of the protest and took umbrage at accusations of racism. Hit dogs, after all, will holler.

Fast forward to this week, and everything Kaepernick laid out four years ago is still happening. As Floyd was apprehended by police on Monday, a white Minneapolis officer can be seen on video later released on social media digging his knee into Floyd’s neck as Floyd screamed, “I can’t breathe.” In March, Taylor was killed by Louisville police after officers charged into her apartment after midnight while looking for a man who did not live at Taylor’s residence. Taylor was shot eight times by the officers.

Kaepernick began his protests in 2016 following the highly publicized deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota, respectively, silently protesting to bring awareness to police misconduct and racial inequality in the country. His tactics were deemed inappropriate by many.

In light of the alleged killings of Floyd and Taylor at the hands of law enforcement, communities in Minneapolis and Louisville (and other cities, including Los Angeles) have reacted with anger. Since Floyd’s slaying on Monday, people in Minneapolis have protested every day, burning down multiple buildings, including a police precinct.  On Thursday night, seven people were shot at a protest in Louisville while demonstrators took over streets and caused some property damage.

The criticism was swift.

“How do we build trust between the community and the police? Let’s go steal s— from Target. Looters are the absolute scum of the earth,” tweeted former Packers and Detroit Lions offensive lineman T.J. Lang about the Minneapolis demonstrations.

“How does looting, rioting and destroying your OWN community bring justice for anyone?” asked Fox News personality Tomi Lahren. (At the time of his initial protest in 2016, Lahren tweeted that Kaepernick should “leave” America if “this country disgusts you so much.”)

To some, violent riots aren’t the right way to go about social change. Property damage or looting, the thinking goes, does nothing but push more people against your cause. Never mind that Martin Luther King Jr., one of the “good ones” to some in white America, once said that “a riot is the language of the unheard.”

But negative reactions to recent protests add an extra level of irony when thinking about Kaepernick. If burning down businesses and disrupting traffic on highways are the wrong ways to protest, would a silent, nonviolent protest that intelligently lays out its arguments and demands suffice? Perhaps one that prioritized sitting down over standing up?

Nearly four years ago, Kaepernick caused a national controversy when he said that it was wrong that police officers can get away with killing people. In the wake of Floyd’s killing, many in the sports world have spoken out: LeBron James, Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Timberwolves head coach Ryan Saunders. On Friday, four days after Floyd’s death, the former Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, who was fired from the force on Tuesday, was charged with third-degree murder. Nearly three months after Taylor was killed, not a single Louisville officer has been arrested or charged.

Kaepernick told us this was wrong. America chose not to listen.

”Until people are shameful of their privilege, nothing meaningful will change.” Gregory Owens Sr.