The Colin Kaepernick Sit-Down Protest Explained

San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick recently ignited a controversy by refusing to stand for the national anthem prior to a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26. Here are five things to know about this.

HOW IT STARTED

Kaepernick, who is bi-racial, said his decision to stay seated during the anthem is a protest of racial oppression in America.

“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. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”

Kaepernick said his decision was made after months of conversation with friends and family and learning more about the issue. He has since said he is going to donate the first $1 million he makes this season to causes that help combat racism. 

THE NFL’S RESPONSE HAS MIRRORED THE COUNTRY’S 

Similarly to the rest of the country, Kaepernick’s actions have divided players in the NFL. During a player-only meeting Aug. 28, center Daniel Kilgore reportedly had a heated disagreement with Kaepernick, saying Kaepernick’s stance was disrespectful to his friends and family who served in the military. However, many teammates said they supported the stance, and Kilgore said while he didn’t agree with Kaepernick’s methods, he respected his intentions.

Others have been less understanding. Former teammate and current Viking offensive lineman Alex Boone said Kaepernick needed to “show some [expletive] respect. It’s hard for me, because my brother was a Marine, and he lost a lot of friends over there,” Boone said via USA Today. “I get that he can do whatever he wants, but there’s a time and a place. Show some respect.”

THIS IS FAR FROM THE FIRST CONTROVERSY SURROUNDING RACISM AND THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER

Kaepernick is part of a long and controversial history surrounding the national anthem. Francis Scott Key, the author of the anthem, was a slaveholder and a strong anti-abolitionist, causing some abolitionists to protest the song as it grew in popularity.

Jackie Robinson, who first broke the color barrier in baseball, wrote in his autobiography, “I cannot stand for the national anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world…I know I never had it made.”

Others, including boxing legend Muhammed Ali and former NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf protested for similar reasons as Kaepernick. In 1968 Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith famously raised the black power salute during their awards ceremony.

HOW THE SITUATION HAS EVOLVED

As media attention has focused on Kaepernick’s protest, the quarterback has clarified his position. Specifically Kaepernick said his protest in no way is critical toward the troops. He has met with members of the armed forces and most recently changed his protest from sitting to kneeling during the anthem after talking with teammate Eric Reid and former Green Beret Nate Boyer, who Kaepernick met with for 90 minutes prior to the game.

THE DEBATE OVER KAEPERNICK IS ABOUT MORE THAN THE ANTHEM

Many peoples’ responses to Kaepernick’s protest seem connected to their feelings about the state of racism in America. Much like the Black Lives Matter movement, Kaepernick has become a litmus test on whether people believe racism against black people is an ongoing, systemic problem. 

The separation between these points of view is usually massive and vitriolic, although it’s worth asking if there’s a third way.

Describing his meeting with Kaepernick, Boyer said, “We talked about change a lot and how to get positive change to happen. We talked about issues that are taking place in this country and how to prompt change, but I also reminded him the great freedoms and luxuries we have in America.”

It’s a helpful, nuanced perspective from a former member of the armed forces, and a possible roadmap for common ground as this conversation moves forward.