Colin Kaepernick has sparked a national conversation about racial injustice and police brutality with a simple, yet controversial gesture to protest during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ Now the 49ers quarterback is set to assume a far more traditional role in his next step as an NFL player: resuming his position as the team’s starter.
Kaepernick has been promoted over struggling quarterback Blaine Gabbert to run Chip Kelly’s offense, beginning with Sunday’s game against the Bills in Buffalo. It likely will not be a friendly welcome for the 28-year-old passer, who has incited many NFL fans with his decision to initially sit for and then take a knee during the national anthem. But Kaepernick believes many fans will be supportive.
“I think there’s going to be a lot of people rooting for me as well,” Kaepernick told Bills reporters this past week. “I think a lot of the people that are rooting against me because of what my stance is and what I believe in and the people and injustice I’m fighting for, you know, it’s sad to see that they don’t feel the empathy or compassion that other people should have the same rights, the same justices and be treated the same way as them.”
In August, when Kaepernick’s protest during the anthem first generated widespread reaction, Bills coach Rex Ryan said he wanted all his players to stand out of respect for the military. No Bills players have protested during the anthem and Ryan reiterated his feelings this past week about the importance of standing.
“Every individual on this team has the right to do as they choose,” he said. “I’ve already shared my views, my opinion of certain things, so that’s just how I feel about it. But our guys have the freedom, as any individual does in this great country . . . I’ll never look at somebody differently because of somebody’s views or religious beliefs, political beliefs, opinions, whatever. That’s fine. I respect everybody, I respect everybody in that locker room and that’s just the way it is. So I made sure our team knows that. They’re not disappointing me, they’re not disappointing anybody.”
Ryan said his focus this week is on Kaepernick the athlete, not the social justice advocate.
“I’m not worried about that kind of figure, I’m worried about the quarterback,” he said. “Obviously, I think he has the skill set and the talent. I think [it] will be a very dangerous combination in [Chip] Kelly’s offense, so I think that’s a concern. Very talented runner with the football and then obviously he’s a pretty good quarterback as well, I think, as a passer, so any time you lead a team to a Super Bowl, that’s pretty good. That’s where our focus certainly is, on preparing for him.”
Kaepernick said his focus will be on the game, although he does plan to protest by kneeling during the anthem. And he doesn’t see his gesture as a distraction for his teammates.
“I don’t see how it would make it more difficult for my teammates,” he said. “We’re stepping on that field to win a football game. That’s where our focus is, that’s what our job is and that’s where our mindset is. When I [set] foot in this [practice] facility every day, I step in here to play football, and that’s what my focus is. In my spare time and when I’m being asked questions about it, I’m going to answer and answer honestly.”