On Saturday, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and political activist Colin Kaepernick stepped onto the practice field for his workout in front of seven NFL teams sporting a T-shirt with the name Kunta Kinte.
Kunta Kinte is one of the most recognizable characters in Alex Haley’s 1976 novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family, which was later turned into a miniseries a year later that took America by storm. In the novel and miniseries, Kunta Kinte is kidnapped from Africa, sold into slavery and bought by a plantation owner in Virginia.
Like every African slave, he was given an Anglicized name, Toby, which he refused to call himself. As a result, the slave master tries to whip him into submission, but he stands strong in who he is. Eventually, he has half of his foot cut off after continuously trying to run away to freedom and spends the rest of his life as a slave.
By wearing the shirt, Colin made one thing very clear: he wasn’t going to compromise who he is or what he believes in to make others happy. Even if it means not returning to the NFL.
But Colin is no stranger when it comes to using clothes as a form of protest.
In 2016, he wore socks that depicted pigs in police hats to protest police brutality. The choice of attire caused outrage but Colin addressed the controversy in a now-deleted Instagram post and insisted that people should focus on the message behind the clothing.
“I wore these socks, in the past, because the rogue cops that are allowed to hold positions in police departments, not only put the community in danger but also put the cops that have the right intentions in danger by creating an environment of tension and mistrust. I have two uncles and friends who are police officers and work to protect and serve ALL people.”
Two years later, he wore the same Kunta Kinte shirt while attending his collusion case with the NFL, showing that he was not going to go down without a fight.
On top of his choice of clothing for Saturday, Colin has also been criticized for changing the location and time of his workout at the last minute. Sports commentator, Stephen A. Smith tweeted,
“And at some point, you’ve got the grab the opportunity. Kap’s occurred today. And what does he do: alters the process, and shows up with a T-Shirt alluding to SLAVERY For a JOB INTERVIEW!”
Clearly, Kaepernick’s decisions went right over Smith’s head.
On the day of the workout, it was discovered that the NFL sponsored event, which was set to have 32 teams present to watch Colin, would be closed to the media and they expected Colin to sign a waiver that, according to NBC’s Pro Football Talk “protected the league and the Falcons against a torn ACL or some other injury that could have happened during the workout but also exonerated the league of any and all responsibility for the violations of his rights that may have (have) occurred since his grievance was settled in February.”
Colin, who has stuck to his guns for the past three years wasn’t going to give in to the NFL’s demands that easily. Colin decided to move the workout last minute to a high school field in Riverdale, a town just south of Atlanta, equipped with a film crew to ensure transparency during the workout.
Colin left the field on Saturday with this to say to the NFL:
“I’ve been ready for three years. I’ve been denied for three years. We all know why. I came out here and showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. So we’re waiting for the 32 owners, the 32 teams, Roger Goodell, all of them to stop running. Stop running from the truth, stop running from the people.”
Given the waiver, and the fact that the workout wasn’t necessary for the NFL to seek out Kaep over the past three years, shows this had to be a publicity stunt on the NFL’s part, not Kaepernick’s.
He has the talent and the drive to play football and, as he said, he’s been ready, but the NFL wants more than that. They want him to be silent and not stir the pot. But the fight that Colin gave his career up for is a lot bigger than throwing a ball.