Three days ago, the 49ers quarterback refused to stand for the national anthem. “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 later. “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.” While the NFL has somewhat surprisingly (if tepidly) asserted that Kaepernick is free to act on his conscience, the backlash has been swift and severe. San Francisco’s police union condemned Kaepernick’s actions; rival teams (including the racist one) have done the same; and fans have burned Kaepernick’s jersey in a protest of Kaepernick’s protest.
So far, though, only one player has said he’ll join Kaepernick, Eagles rookie linebacker Myke Tavarres. Tavarres isn’t exactly a star—in fact, he doesn’t even have a guaranteed contract—but that doesn’t mean his decision isn’t risky: Standing with Kaepernick could cost him his career. But for Tavarres, the risk is worth it.
That doesn’t mean that Kaepernick isn’t being supported by other players. Here’s Mike Freeman, who wrote about Kaepernick’s protest for Bleacher Report, testing the waters:
Six players reached out (five black and one white), and all backed Kaepernick. The four assistant coaches and two front-office executives who were white said Kaepernick was wrong. The two black assistant coaches said they were fine with what Kaepernick did. This is hardly a scientific poll, but it is interesting.
Earlier this month, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rogers voiced support, at least in the abstract, for actions like Kaepernick’s, telling ESPN, “I think some guys in the NFL are probably worried about repercussions on speaking their mind from the league … I think if more guys maybe did in our league, it would create a domino effect possibly.” There are lots of structural reasons why, as Rogers points out, the NFL lags behind, say, the NBA in this area: It’s easy to cut players in the NFL and most contracts aren’t guaranteed. Rock the boat, and you could lose everything.
But creating a climate where protest—and hopefully dialogue—is more common would alleviate some of the risk: There is strength in numbers. Kaepernick deserves more vocal support from fans as well. We demand authenticity from athletes and shouldn’t recoil when that’s what we get.