Supporters of quarterback Colin Kaepernick held a rally outside the NFL’s front office Wednesday.
More than 1,000 people showed up outside the NFL’s midtown Manhattan office, many wearing his red No. 7 San Francisco 49ers jersey. The protesters demanded that Kaepernick be signed by the time the regular season begins in two weeks.
Kaepernick made national headlines last season when he refused to stand up during the playing of the national anthem, citing police brutality and other crimes against people of African descent.
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Kaepernick’s supporters believe he is being blackballed because of his social advocacy and the way he chose to protest. Critics contend he should not have kneeled or refuse to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Others insist he has not been is strictly because of his performance on the field.
Kaepernick was selected 36th overall by the 49ers in the 2011 NFL Draft. He began as a backup to Alex Smith. The 49ers went to the NFC Championship in his rookie season, a loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.
The following season, Kaepernick became the starter after Smith suffered a concussion. He led the 49ers to an appearance in Super Bowl XLVIII, a loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers went back to the NFC Championship Game in Kaepernick’s third season, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
He signed a six-year extension worth up to $126 million in 2014. The 49ers finished 8-8 that season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. This lead to Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers head coach, to depart for the University of Michigan.
In 2015, Kaepernick struggled under Jim Tomsula, Harbaugh’s replacement. He was eventually benched for Blaine Gabbert. The 49ers announced Kaepernick would miss the rest of the season due to a shoulder injury that required surgery. The 49ers finished 5-11 and Tomsula was fired.
Chip Kelly was brought in to replace Tomsula. Kelly made Blaine Gabbert the starter for the regular season opener. Kaepernick’s contract was restructured into a two-year deal with a player option for the third year.
Kelly made Kaepernick the starter during Week 6. He finished the season with 2,241 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and four interceptions in twelve games. Kaepernick also rushed for 468 yards with two touchdowns but the 49ers finished 2-14 (including 1-10 in the games Kaepernick started).
He officially opted out of his contract in March, making him a free agent at the start of the league year. He visited the Seahawks in the offseason but didn’t sign.
The NAACP officially called for a meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss Kaepernick’s NFL future. Derrick Johnson, interim president of the civil rights organization, said in a letter to Goodell it’s “no sheer coincidence” Kaepernick is not on an NFL roster.
“No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech,” Johnson wrote. “To do so is in violation of his rights under the Constitution and the NFL’s own regulations.”
New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes said, “Right now, the action of the league seems to imply to young Black men that this league, which is comprised of 70 percent African-Americans, only values Black lives if they are wearing a football uniform.”
Others called for a boycott of the NFL.
“I don’t care how long you’ve been watching football,” Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory said. “If they don’t stand up for your children, turn the damn TV off.”
Some believe the treatment of Kaepernick is symptomatic of the attitude the NFL shows over the health of its players.
“How in the world can we call ourselves the land of the free, the home of the brave, and you get vilified and criminalized for speaking your mind?” The Rev. Jamal Bryant said. “The NFL has proven with their treatment of Colin Kaepernick that they don’t mind if Black players get a concussion. They just got a problem if Black players get a conscience.”
NFL players are following Kaepernick’s example of protest. Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch refused to stand during the national anthem in their preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals. A group of Cleveland Browns players prayed in silent protest before their game against the Giants Monday night.
Other NFL players have publicly come out in support of Kaepernick and feel that he is being blackballed by the league.
The Browns’ Monday night protest angered Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, who said on Facebook he wouldn’t attend any games where “draft dodging millionaire athletes disrespect the veterans who earned them the right to be on that field”.