In August 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem for the first time, saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” This action outraged some of the National Football League’s (NFL) conservative fan base and 32 team owners, many of whom believed that Kaepernick’s actions were unpatriotic.
The NFL responded to this by shunning Kaepernick for years, and he has not played since January 2017. This did not slow down Kaepernick or his movement: he founded an organization that teaches youth their legal rights and self-empowerment, he donated $1 million to organizations fighting for his cause of ending racial inequality, and with former teammate Eric Reid he sued the NFL over blacklisting them and won $10 million in a settlement. Protesting the national anthem gained momentum, as increasing numbers of NFL players knelt, and athletes outside the league such as soccer star Megan Rapinoe took a knee as well.
Kaepernick has another goal. He wants to be an NFL quarterback again, but this is secondary to his movement. After he released a statement saying he was ready to play in October, the NFL decided to give him a chance to prove his worth via a workout in front of representatives from 25 NFL teams at the Atlanta Falcons training facility. The NFL also recruited former Raiders and Browns coach Hue Jackson to lead him through the drills and promised to send a tape of the workout to the seven teams not attending. Kaepernick initially agreed to the workout, but at the last minute changed the plan and held his own workout at a high school. This was a costly decision that cut the number of scouts watching by two-thirds and made the workout less official.
Then, after the workout, Kaepernick criticized the NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell, the man who decided to offer Kaepernick this one-of-a-kind tryout, saying they were “running from the truth.”
The NFL finally gave Kaepernick what he wanted, a legitimate opportunity to show his skills and possibly be signed by a professional team, but he got in his own way by moving locations, and attacking the very people he wanted to be hired by.
In the end, it doesn’t matter that Kaepernick is sabotaging his odds of being signed. He has accomplished so much from when he first knelt three years ago, and his fight matters more than his NFL career. If Kaepernick didn’t think so he would have stayed quiet. He won $10 million in a lawsuit against the NFL over collusion, he was the face of a powerful Nike ad campaign, and he sparked a movement bigger than him, bigger than the NFL, bigger than any sport, that brought needed attention and conversation to the disease of systemic racial oppression in our country. Everyone in the country knows Colin Kaepernick’s name and what he fights for. He took a knee, and forced the country to consider the role of racial injustice in our past, present, and future.
Kaepernick has won whether he plays football again or not.