Ever since San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, became a free agent in 2017, he hasn’t been signed by any NFL team. For months Kaepernick and his lawyer, along with many NFL players and sports journalists, have claimed that Kaepernick has been blacklisted for his protest against police brutality by kneeling during the national anthem. The NFL owners and managers denied this and claimed that he just wasn’t good enough.
Kaepernick began his protest in 2016, and it continued throughout that season until 49ers management refused to resign him for the following season. At the time of the protest, Kaepernick made a powerful statement, explaining his decision to kneel. He said:
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 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…This is not something I am going to run by anybody, 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.
But on April 12, 2018, the truth of the blacklist was exposed when a scheduled workout with the Seattle Seahawks was canceled because Kaepernick was unwilling to promise that he would stop his protest during the next season. Retaliation from the NFL owners has not been limited to Kaepernick. On April 9, 2018, free agent, and former 49ers safety, Eric Reid, was scheduled for a workout with the Cincinnati Bengals. He was asked by the team’s owner, Mike Brown, whether he would promise to stop protesting if he was on the team. And when Reid would not make that commitment, the meeting was soon canceled with no offer being made.
Reid was Kaepernick’s teammate and one of the first to kneel in protest alongside Kaepernick, continuing when Kaepernick was off the team. He has been outspoken supporter of Kaepernick and an open critic of police brutality and the NFL owners for trying to suppress this protest. In an op-ed in the New York Times (September 25, 2017), he wrote:
I am aware that my involvement in this movement means that my career may face the same outcome as Colin’s. But to quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” And I choose not to betray those who are being oppressed…I refuse to be one of those people who watches injustices yet does nothing. I want to be a man my children and children’s children can be proud of, someone who faced adversity and tried to make a positive impact on the world, a person who, 50 years from now, is remembered for standing for what was right, even though it was not the popular or easy choice.
All of the owners of the 32 NFL teams are either billionaires or multi-millionaires. They have claimed that these protests are hurting their business and that fans don’t like it. But this isn’t true. Some fans have chosen to wrap themselves in the flag, opposing Kaepernick and other athletes. But many have supported the protests, which have spread to other athletes in the NFL and other professional sports, along with college, high school and youth sports. Even many bands at sporting events and national anthem singers themselves have joined the protest.
The NFL owners, along with President Trump and Vice President Pence, are not actually worried about the billions of dollars in the NFL. Instead, they want to do everything in their power to discourage athletes from using their enormous public platforms as a way to oppose this brutal system and support those who are willing to stand up against it. Reid and Kaepernick and all the others are an important reminder to all of us that we don’t just have to bow our heads and accept this system.