San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has said he plans to sit out the national anthem tonight, just as he did at a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers last week and other games this summer before reporters took notice.
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He says his protest will continue indefinitely. “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent in this country, I’ll stand,” Kaepernick told reporters Sunday.
The 49ers’ game today in San Diego (7 p.m. Pacific time) is particularly noteworthy because it is Military Night, billed as a tribute to “hundreds of thousands of current and retired military personnel who live and work in San Diego,” according to the San Diego Chargers website.
More broadly, Kaepernick’s pregame protest over, he said, the treatment of “black people and people of color” has garnered national media attention, driving a complex discussion about race and political protest in U.S. sports.
The timing of the Military Night is coincidental, a Chargers spokesman told The San Diego Union-Tribune earlier this week, adding that the team sponsors a Salute to the Military once every preseason.
Kaepernick’s protest of “The Star-Spangled Banner” first caught the attention of the media last Friday night, before a game in which he returned from injury. Since then, fan reaction to his decision has been split, frequently along ideological lines.
Some fans expressed anger toward Kaepernick, specifically regarding his perceived slight of the U.S. military.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he told NFL Media.
“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,” he said.
Kaepernick, 28, who was born in Milwaukee to a white mother and an African-American father, has said the protest is not meant to insult members of the military.
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country,” Kaepernick said of the criticism. “I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up.”
Still, it has not stopped fans from burning his jersey and other memorabilia bearing his name and image. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke in harsh terms about the embattled player, saying Monday, “Maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”
But Kaepernick has also received vocal support from others — like New York Daily News columnist Shaun King and from NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the latter calling Kaepernick “highly patriotic” in a op-ed published Tuesday in The Washington Post.
Veterans have stood up for Kaepernick on social media, and the hashtag VeteransforKaepernick went viral Tuesday night, adding a layer to the public debate.
It’s unclear how the public will perceive Kaepernick’s protest over time, but the reaction from a military-dominated crowd in San Diego tonight might offer some hints.
On the field, Kaepernick will be wrestling with a different drama from the one that has dogged him off the field in the past week: He is trying to keep his job with the team on which he rose to stardom in 2012, when he led it to its first Super Bowl in two decades.
Since losing that game to the Baltimore Ravens, Kaepernick has battled injuries and on-field inconsistency, leaving some analysts to speculate that he is at risk of being dropped by the 49ers, particularly with the vehement public reaction to his national anthem protest.
Dave Zirin, a sports editor for The Nation and a historian on sports protests, told ABC News Tuesday that Kaepernick’s precarious spot on the 49ers roster only served to strengthen the power of his protest.
“He’s really risking something by doing this,” Zirin said. “It’s all the more admirable that he could be cut by the 49ers.”