It’s Black and White…or is it?

A Kaep-tain America Update

By Maci Weeks

As far as Sunday night football, the movement that was first presented by Colin Kaepernick still runs strong. Even with the former 49ers quarterback out of the National Football League, players are still kneeling in protest of black oppression. With Eric Reid kneeling solo in his return, many wondered where the movement stands.

Kneeling Against Injustice

Colin Kaepernick first became a name with many different connotations in September of 2016 when he kneeled during the National Anthem during the opening ceremonies of a football game. Kaepernick and fellow 49ers teammate Eric Reid kneeled in order to protest the injustice they see in America, especially the injustices black people face. The game was the 49ers’ final 2016 preseason game in of September 2016. Kaepernick says that he and Reid talked to Nate Boyer before choosing the manner in which they would protest. Boyer is a former NFL and Green Beret. After talking to Boyer, Kaepernick opted to kneel during the U.S. national anthem. In a post-game interview, Kaepernick said “We chose to kneel because it’s respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” The tragedy, in this case, is the systematic racism that the two players believed was still present enough to protest. This caused many people to express their personal opinions on the means by which Kaepernick protested. For some, the feelings were that the protest is protected under the first amendment and that the protest brought an important topic into the limelight. For others, the protest involved disrespecting the country and the military personnel who gave Kaepernick the right to kneel. One interesting perspective that acknowledged both sides of the spectrum was presented by Torrey Smith, a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles.

Smith said, “I understand why people are offended by people protesting the National Anthem. My father served for 25 years. When he dies, he’s going to be wrapped in an American flag. But my dad is also out of the Army, and he drives trucks all over the country, and he’s a black man everywhere he goes, and sometimes he has racial incidents still today. That doesn’t protect him, just because he served our country. And I think that’s important.”

Kaepernick Today

The movement continued to spread through the varying teams in the NFL in the 2017 season, and on September 24th, over 200 players joined Kaepernick in protest. President Donald Trump response to the protest? A call for owners to fire any player who engaged in the protest. Many claimed this was an invasion on the free speech of the players, but some said that players paid by the NFL, and therefore the company possesses control over issues that deal with branding. In the 2018 preseason, the 2018 Super Bowl Champs declined an invitation from Trump to visit the White House because of “policy disagreements” on the issue of kneeling. In In the offseason of 2016, Kaepernick had opted out of his final year of the contract with the 49ers, and the teamed claimed this was because they needed to have more room to obtain new players. While 49ers GM told ESPN sources that Kaepernick left the team on very positive terms, Kaepernick found no success in signing to a new team as a free agent. He was not even given a tryout. This leads him to believe that he was being conspired against.

In the summer of 2018, Kaepernick slammed a legal suit against the 32 NFL team owners accusing them of colluding to end his career in the National Football League. His case was officially filed as a collusion case, and it was even reported that Kaepernick’s lawyers would subpoena the President and Vice President for evidence of government intervention in Kaepernick’s unsuccessful run as a free agent. No official compromise has been reached, and a trial which could include testimonies from NFL owners is a possibility. Sporting News says “An NFL request to dismiss the case was denied last month, meaning there is sufficient evidence for it to go to an arbitrator.” For Kaepernick, a fairly successful quarterback, the loss of the job he loved has been confusing and incredibly heartbreaking.

Enter Nike.

With the loss, of his job Nike thought of a way to keep a paycheck coming to Kaepernick. With the tagline “Believe in something even. Even if it means losing everything,” Nike launched a new campaign that would celebrate their 30th anniversary of the slogan “Just Do It.” featuring the controversial figure. Kaepernick has been a Nike partner athlete since 2011 but had not been used since before the protests began. Nike continued to pay Kaepernick for the two years he was out of the league and “planned to bring him back at the right time.” With other shoe brands wanting to make a brand deal with Kaepernick, Nike knew it was the time to move. The release of this particular ad campaign was very polarizing. Many took to Twitter to voice their less than flattering opinion of the new campaign. Cutting swooshes off socks, tearing up shirts, and even burning shoes were all seen in the 48 hours following the release of the campaign. However, there were a plethora of people who supported the new ads. According to the New York Post, Nike’s merchandise sales have doubled since the Colin Kaepernick ad, which is a huge jump for the company. Nike has also released a video ad that features Kaepernick’s voice.

What’s next?

While the future is unclear for Kaepernick, it is evident that his name will not be going away anytime soon. Nike will continue using the athlete in their campaign, and the NFL continues to direct conversations of race toward Kaepernick controversies. Sports Illustrated reported that aside from a perfect storm circumstance, Kaepernick will not return to the NFL after being denied a tryout by one of the most tolerant teams (Washington Seahawks) in the league in late August. However, Kaepernick is making strides towards his goal of equality, even without his franchise quarterback platform. He is to receive the W.E.B. Du Bois Medal from Harvard later this year “significant contributions to African and African-American history and culture, and more broadly, these individuals advocate for intercultural understanding and human rights in an increasingly global and interconnected world.” He stands among activists like Maya Angelou as well as Muhammad Ali in receiving this award. Kaepernick will also be releasing a shoe and clothing line with Nike and has already been worn by major athletes like Lebron James.

While it is unclear the particular direct Kaepernick’s career will take, we can be sure that he, and his fight for racial equality, are not going anywhere anytime soon.