Colin Kaepernick is a reference in the fight against racism in the United States. In 2016, during an NFL preseason game between 49ers and Green Bay Packers, Kaepernick knelt down during the performance of the American national anthem as a symbol of protest, kicking off the movement “Black Lives Matter” (black lives matter). His name was remembered again after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in the United States.
Kaepernick became one of the main players in the NFL, an American football league in the United States, but since childhood he had to deal with and fight racism. On November 3, 1987, in the freezing winter of the city of Milwaukee, located on the eastern edge of Wisconsin, in the United States, Colin Kaepernick was born. His biological mother, Heidi Russo, who was 19 at the time, faced a lonely pregnancy, as the father of the newborn fled to learn of his partner’s pregnancy.
Russo then decided to hand Colin over to Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, a couple he approached through mutual contact. Both already had two children, but had also lost two others, prematurely, due to heart problems.
The Kaepernick family moved to California when Colin was four and there he grew up with his brothers, Kyle and Devon. Later, the boy took his first steps in American football, where he stood out due to his strong pitch. When entering High School, it was no different, Kaepernick arrived at the selection of all districts and all conferences, but that was not enough to attract the attention of university scouts.
Only in 2007, on the verge of his 20s, Kaepernick won a university scholarship. Colin attended a University of Nevada selective and proved his skills. In his first year, he was scheduled to play as a safety, but, after an injury to the starting quarterback, he held the position of passer, never to leave her again. There were 19 touchdown passes in his first season as a freshman.
Throughout his four years of college, Kaepernick broke a series of school records and drew the attention of the San Francisco 49ers, who selected him in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Kaepernick spent a season on the bench until Alex Smith, the starting quarterback for the San Francisco franchise, was injured.
The rookie responded to the challenge and impressed then 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, who made him his starting quarterback. The decision was quite controversial and questioned by the American sports press, as Alex Smith was running an excellent campaign. The answer to the media noise around Kaepernick came with the arrival of the franchise at Super Bowl XLVII, against the Baltimore Ravens in 2012, which was almost won by the 49ers.
The following years were marked by the decline of the franchise. In 2013, the team managed to maintain a good season with 12 wins and four losses, but fell against the Seattle Seahawks in the confrontation by the NFC. In 2014, there were eight wins and eight losses and the franchise did not reach the playoffs. The weight of the poor performances fell on the shoulders of Kaepernick, who was injured and lost his title in 2015.
In a pre-season match against the Green Bay Packers in 2016, Kaepernick did not rise during the performance of the American national anthem. He preferred to sit on the bench in protest during one of his country’s greatest demonstrations of patriotism.
Kaepernick lives with the differences since his birth. He is black, adopted and raised by a family of whites. There is no justification for him for the murder rate of blacks to be eight times higher than that of whites, as revealed by a UN survey that same year. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag of a country that oppresses black people and people of color. For me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish of me to pretend that I am not watching,” said Kaepernick, in an interview after the match.
The player’s act was a precursor to a series of demonstrations by the Black Lives Metters movement (Vidas Negras Importam), which was beginning to gain national prominence at the time, and started to be replicated by several other players from different sports in North America, who they also refused to stand up during the performance of the national anthem.
Kaepernick changed his form of demonstration out of respect for the United States military. Nate Boyer, an army veteran and Seattle Seahawks player, wrote an open letter to his NFL buddy, in which he explained discontent with the gesture.
“I am not judging you for defending what you believe. It is your inalienable right. What you are doing requires a lot of courage, and I would lie if I said I knew what it was like to walk in your shoes. I never had to deal with prejudices because of color of my skin and, for me to say that I can relate to what you’ve been through, is as ignorant as someone who has never been in a combat zone, saying that they understand what it is, “said Boyer.
The green beret explained to Kaepernick that, during a military funeral for the American flag, it is delivered to the family of the deceased by an officer, who delivers the item on his knees. It was there that Kaepernick started to accompany the United States anthem on his knees, instead of sitting.
San Francisco’s poor performances remained and the team ended the season with two wins and 14 losses. It no longer made sense, either for Kaepernick or for the 49ers to maintain a bond. For that reason, they both broke off that same year. Since then, the player is unemployed.
In October 2017, Kaepernick filed a complaint with NFL officials for collusion. According to the document presented by the player, the NFL and its owners “conspired to deprive Kaepernick of labor rights in retaliation for Kaepernick’s leadership and defense for equality and social justice, and his awareness of peculiar institutions that still undermine racial equality in the United States” .
In fact, there were not enough solid arguments to justify the franchises’ lack of interest in the player. Kaepernick was 29 years old, considerably young for his position. “There is no precedent on the pitch for someone like Kaepernick to remain without a job offer after being such a regular athlete. The reasons that keep him unemployed can only be off the pitch. And even these are full of holes,” said Bill Barnwell , ESPN columnist.
Outside the fields, an icon
In December 2017, Kaepernick was honored by the American Civil Liberties Union and received the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate award. “We all have an obligation, regardless of risk and, regardless of reward, to defend our fellow men and women who are being oppressed with the understanding that human rights cannot be compromised,” said Kaepernick in his speech.
In the same month, the player became one of the finalists of TIME Magazine’s traditional Person of the Year designation and won the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy trophy, awarded to athletes fighting for ideals of leadership and philanthropy, to change the world . In September 2018, the player would become the face of Nike’s 30-year campaign with the phrase: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”.
Kaepernick’s most recent performance was in the face of demonstrations against racism in the United States as a result of the assassination of George Floyd. The ex-49ers launched a fund to hire lawyers to support protesters who are arrested.
“When civility leads to death, revolt is the only logical reaction. The screams of peace will rain and, when they do, they will fall on deaf ears, because their violence has brought this resistance. We have the right to fight back! George Floyd, “said Kaepernick on his Twitter.
His gesture, created and changed in 2016, remains a symbol of resistance in the United States and worldwide. Around the demonstrations, which proliferate quickly in the North American territory, people kneeling ask for justice for the death of Floyd.
The clash between the NFL and Kaepernick would end in February 2018. Both sides entered into a classified agreement. In November 2019, it was revealed that the league would be running a training session with the player and representatives of the 32 teams. There were technical problems and only eight franchise representatives appeared. For now, he remains without a club.
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