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NFL Quarterback Refuses To Stand For National Anthem To Protest Oppression Of People Of Color

CREDIT: AP/Tony Avelar
CREDIT: AP/Tony Avelar

Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the 49ers, decided not to stand for the national anthem last night in the team’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. He explained his decision to the National Football League this morning.

“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. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

“To me, this is bigger than football.”

The 49ers also sent out a statement after his decision to sit down during the national anthem.

“The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as citizens,” the team said. “In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

The NFL also released a statement:

Kaepernick took a big risk by taking this stand during a preseason game when his spot as quarterback is not secure. The decision for an athlete to sit out on a national anthem could easily inflame the public, especially when a player explicitly states that police are oppressing people of color and that police aren’t receiving harsh enough consequences. He references to“people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” is likely to police given the number of times officers were put on paid leave after shooting people of color.

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Kaepernick acknowledged those risks. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed,” he said. “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick, whose mother is white and whose father is black, has previously talked about his upbringing by the white parents who adopted him and how he felt about his racial background growing up.

He shared a story with US Magazine last year of a family trip where he noticed people treated him differently than the rest of his family. “We used to go on these summer driving vacations and stay at motels,” he recalled. “And every year, in the lobby of every motel, the same thing always happened, and it only got worse as I got older and taller. It didn’t matter how close I stood to my family, somebody would walk up to me, a real nervous manager, and say: ‘Excuse me. Is there something I can help you with?’”

Kaepernick hasn’t been alone in his efforts to bring attention to issues of racial injustice through his position as a nationally recognized athlete. WNBA players spoke to the media wearing “Black Lives Matter: Enough Is Enough” T-shirts and spoke to reporters about the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police in July. During the same month, NBA players Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, and LeBron James opened the ESPY Awards, ESPN’s awards show, by bringing attention to the issue of violence against people of color by police.

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“The system is broken, the problems are not new, the violence is not new and the racial divide definitely is not new. But, the urgency to create change is at an all-time high,” Anthony said.