San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem before the team’s Friday night preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, and on Saturday, he explained why.
“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 told NFL.com’s Steve Wyche. “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 protest makes Kaepernick the latest athlete to use his platform to call attention to problems facing African-Americans across the country, particularly the issue of police killings. Four NBA stars ― Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Chris Paul ― called attention to the issue in an on-stage speech at the ESPY Awards in July. Anthony has also marched in protests in Baltimore; and Wade and James, along with their then-Miami Heat teammates, donned hoodies to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin in 2013.
Players from three WNBA teams wore shirts that bore the “Black Lives Matter” slogan during pre-game warmups in July. And during previous seasons, an assortment of NFL and NBA players have warmed up in T-shirts honoring African-Americans killed by police, and spoken out against police brutality after their games.
Kaepernick did not tell the 49ers of his plans not to stand for the anthem. He also sat through the song during a previous preseason game.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” Kaepernick told NFL.com. “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.”
Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the anthem is similar to a protest from former Denver Nuggets player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, whose choice to sit down through the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” before NBA games in 1996 blew up into a nationwide controversy. Abdul-Rauf, a converted Muslim, eventually served a one-game suspension before striking a compromise with the NBA that required him to stand but allowed him to bow his head in prayer during the anthem. The flag, Abdul-Rauf said then, was “a symbol of tyranny, of oppression.”
The Nuggets traded Abdul-Rauf after the 1996 season, and his career never rebounded from the controversy.
The 49ers said that they respected Kaepernick’s decision to exercise his rights of expression.
“The National Anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony,” the team said in a statement, according to NFL.com. “It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”