The San Fransico 49ers are headed to the Superbowl for the seventh time.

But this time, they’re doing it without the help of Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback-turned-social activist who led them to the Superbowl in 2013. And although they ultimately lost to the Baltimore Ravens, Kaepernick solidified his place as a football legend. Colin’s career was looking up, that is, until 2016 when he decided to fight for a cause that’s so much bigger than football.

During a preseason game in 2016, Colin bravely chose to sit while the national anthem played; to which he later explained.

“I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a county that oppresses black people and people of color. 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 are still getting away with murder.”

After former Green Beret Nate Boyer informed Colin that it would be more respectful to kneel, Colin spent the rest of the season peacefully protesting police brutality and the racial inequality that plagued the country. It was a move that made him a pariah amongst conservatives and everyone else who failed to see how police brutality and the criminal justice system disproportionately treated black people and other people of color.

Colin kneeling with teammate Eli Harold in 2016

Despite the public outrage, Kaepernick wasn’t alone in his fight. Soon, players like Brandon Marshall, Kenny Stills, Devin McCourty, and countless others knelt in solidarity with Kaepernick and for the cause.

The movement that Colin started even transcended football.

In 2016, national soccer player Megan Rapinoe famously knelt during an international game. Megan defended her decision, telling American Soccer Now,

“It was a little nod to Kaepernick and everything that he’s standing for right now. I think it’s actually pretty disgusting the way he was treated and the way that a lot of the media has covered it and made it about something that it absolutely isn’t. We need to have a more thoughtful, two-sided conversation about racial issues in this country.”

Instead of standing by their players, the NFL succumbed to the backlash and released a statement in 2018, informing players that they are required to stand for the national anthem. Any player that refuses must wait in the locker room until the anthem is finished. 

Colin left the 49ers in 2016 and was eventually signed as a free agent in 2017, hoping that another team would pick him up. Unfortunately, that never happened.

Nearly four years after signing as a free agent, Colin has yet to be signed by a team.

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Colin kneeling with teammates Eric Reid and Eli Harold in 2016

In 2019, it looked as though the NFL was ready to have Colin back in the league after they invited him to workout in front of 32 teams.  But that soon went south after it was discovered that the NFL wanted Colin to sign a liability waiver, which Colin refused to sign. With Colin refusing to give up on his values, the NFL has essentially blackballed him from ever playing the sport again.

But now, the same organization that shunned Colin Kaepernick is ready to tackle police brutality and racial injustice; but they’re doing it without Kaep.

On Wednesday, January 22, the NFL tweeted a two-minute public service announcement focusing on the life of Botham Jean, a black man who was fatally shot in his own home by Dallas officer Amber Guyger, who mistook his apartment for hers.

The video shows pictures and videos of Botham and is narrated by his mother, father, and sister. His brother, who famously hugged Amber in court, was not present.

Botham’s mother says in the video,

“Yeah, what I hope to see happening is that our black boys are not seen as a threat.”

The video is a part of the NFL’s new Inspire Change Initiative. The campaign is run by rapper and NFL partner Jay-Z’s RocNation group as a way to help the NFL fix their tarnished reputation when it comes to handling social justice issues.

The Inspire Change Initiative hopes that the “collaborative efforts of players, teams, and the league creates positive changes in a growing number of urban and rural communities across the country.”

As commendable as it is that the NFL is trying to fight for change in our justice system, it’s hard to take them seriously. If they really wanted to make a change, why have they continued to shun Kaepernick from the league? And most importantly, why hasn’t the NFL and Jay-Z contacted Kaep to be a part of the initiative? After all, he was the one who sacrificed his career to fight for the greater good.

colin kaepernick know your rights
Colin speaking with children as part of his Know Your Rights organization

Colin has been the one who has tirelessly put in the work to fight for racial injustice, not the NFL. He’s pledged to donate $1 million to organizations that help people who have been affected by police brutality and racial injustice. He even founded the Know Your Rights Camp, a youth center that focuses on helping black and brown communities. 

No one is saying that the NFL can’t begin to raise awareness against police brutality, but it’s doubtful that the NFL would have cared about the issue if Colin hadn’t stepped up. On top of that, the league’s sudden fight for racial justice is a slap in Colin’s face. The NFL shunned Colin from the league and for them to just erase his legacy like he never existed is not okay.

The NFL can’t speak out against police brutality while simultaneously denying Colin work. It does not, and can not work like that. The NFL has a long way to go when it comes to truly understanding the fight against police brutality.  The league can make as many advertisements and campaigns as they want, but their efforts are not going to be viewed as sincere until they make a peace offering to the man they helped demonize.

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