A year-long silent sideline protest in the NFL against racism and police brutality gained momentum on the weekend after U.S. President Donald Trump criticized players for “disrespecting” the country.
It started with Colin Kaepernick
The movement began when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner before the start of a pre-season game in August, 2016. His protest was intended to be a call for action against “oppression” and how minorities are treated by police.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick said following his first protest. “To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
Kaepernick’s protest drew support as well as outcry with many saying the NFLer was disrespecting the flag and the U.S. military. The quarterback said he was not protesting members of the military or those losing their lives for Americans’ rights and freedoms.
“There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality,” said Kaepernick. “There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
Kaepernick’s protest came in support of the Black Lives Matter movement calling for justice after a spate of police-involved shootings, including the death of Philando Castile, a black motorist shot and killed by a Minnesota police officer and Alton Sterling who fatally shot by two white Baton Rouge police officers.
Trump enters the fray
While Kaepernick is not currently playing in the NFL, a handful of players had continued his protest each game by either kneeling during the national anthem or raising a fist.
But Trump renewed the controversy Friday when he suggested any player protesting was a “son of a bitch” and should be fired. The president later said the protest had “nothing to do with race.”
However, for Kaepernick, and the handful of players who took a knee during the anthem, the protest was all about race.
“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,” the quarterback said at the time of his first protest last August. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
The bi-racial player became a free agent in March after opting out of his contract with the 49ers and has yet to be signed by another NFL team. Some of his supporters believe Kaepernick hasn’t been awarded a contract within the league because of his protests.
Carolina Panthers’ quarterback Cam Newton recently spoke out in support of Kaepernick saying there’s no reason for him not be to signed.
“Do I think Kaepernick is better than some of these starting quarterbacks in this league? Absolutely,” Newton told reporters. “Should he be on a roster …? Absolutely. Is he good enough to be a starting quarterback? Absolutely.”
As the Associated Press points, only six players were protesting the national anthem this season prior to Trump’s comments. On Sunday, about 200 football players and team staff either sat, kneeled, raised a fist or did not take to the field during the national anthem in a show of solidarity against Trump’s criticisms, and Kaepernick’s silent protest.
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid joined Kaepernick in protest last year and continued his silent protest this season.
In a New York Times OP-Ed on Monday, Reid explained he joined his former teammate’s sideline in protest when he began to pay attention “to reports about the incredible number of unarmed black people being killed by the police.”
“The posts on social media deeply disturbed me, but one in particular brought me to tears: the killing of Alton Sterling in my hometown Baton Rouge, La,” Reid wrote. “This could have happened to any of my family members who still live in the area. I felt furious, hurt and hopeless. I wanted to do something, but didn’t know what or how to do it.”
Reid goes on to say the protests is not about the flag or disrespecting the United States.
“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite,” Reid wrote. “We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.
Last year, Kaepernick pledged to donate $1 million and all proceeds of jersey sales from the 2016 season to “organizations working in oppressed communities,” to the likes of Mothers Against Police Brutality in Texas and Black Youth Project in Chicago.
According to the Colin Kaepernick Foundation’s website, the former 49er has donated $900,000 of his $1 million pledge.
–with files from the Associated Press