Colin Kaepernick’s on-the-field input Monday night was cosmetic – three mopup handoffs for a net gain of one yard.
So why was he beaming like a Super Bowl MVP later in the locker room? Why did he talk for nearly 10 minutes though he was a non-factor in the 49ers’ 28-0 victory? And why did he command a presence usually saved for an NFL hero?
Here’s why: Because he discovered he’s no longer alone in his protest against racial oppression and inequality. The graduate of Pitman High, who sat alone a few weeks ago during the national anthem, now finds himself kneeling among others, while still others raise their fists in agreement.
“I don’t wanna kneel forever. I want these things to change,” Kaepernick said while he was surrounded by video cameras and other device-holding media. “I do know that it is a process and it won’t change overnight. But I think there are major changes that can be made that are very reasonable.”
How ironic that Kaepernick found his voice at the very moment he’s no longer the 49er starting quarterback. But regardless of how you stand on his protest – whether you think his actions are tantamount to turning his back on his country, or that he’s trying to make his country better – know this: One look around the nation suggests his convictions are shared.
Hence his satisfaction.
Remember, he started on this journey by himself. Even Turlock, his hometown, backed away from his corner. The first wave of media coverage nearly buried him.
Any effective protest must be, at its base, audacious. Kaepernick was audacious, all right. Sitting during the anthem before an NFL game – while the nation peeks in for a view – made Kaepernick an easy target.
But let’s review what happened around all those outsized NFL flags in Week 1. The Chiefs and the Seahawks locked arms in support. Others around the league knelt. Outside the NFL, soccer star Megan Rapinoe took a knee.
On Monday night, Kaepernick again knelt alongside safety Eric Reid. But not far away, teammates Eli Harold and Antoine Bethea raised fists. Across the field, the Los Angeles Rams’ Kenny Britt and Robert Quinn thrust their fists skyward.
Kaepernick looks and sounds like he’s winning.
For starters, the 49ers did not cut him. For another, he donated 750 backpacks to Harlem children. The 49ers, who tried to trade Kaepernick not long ago, pledged $1 million to organizations dedicated to the fight against racial and economic equality.
“I had a great conversation with Jed (49er owner Jed York),” Kaepernick said. “He went out of his way and reached out to me and got to talk these things through. He wanted to know how he could help. To have that support from the owner ... that’s huge.”
But at the other end of the 49er front office is general manager Trent Baalke. ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, one of Baalke’s closest friends, suggested that Kaepernick should “be quiet and sit in the shadows.” Some observers think Dilfer speaks for Baalke.
“I think that it’s one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve heard,” Kaepernick said. “To me, you’re telling me that my position as a backup quarterback and being quiet is more important than people’s lives. I would ask him to have a conversation with the families of people that have been murdered and see if he still feels that way.”
Kaepernick is hardly in the clear, running for another touchdown. He was greeted by scattered boos when he trotted onto the field against the Rams. Many people believe he all but spat on the graves of millions of Americans who’ve died for the freedoms he’s exercised. The Denver Broncos’ Brandon Marshall, one of Kaepernick’s teammates at Nevada, knelt during the anthem last week and lost two endorsements.
Full disclosure: I’ve stood at attention for too many anthems to count. I love my country, flaws and all. But I haven’t walked in Kaepernick’s shoes and I can’t know what he’s seen and felt. And the last time I checked, being a wealthy athlete doesn’t mean you forfeit your moral foundation.
“This issue is beyond the NFL or any sport. It’s about people. It’s about humanity,” Kaepernick said. “People are denied their liberty and their justices. That’s what this issue is about. It’s racial discrimination. It’s racial profiling. It’s all those things. Now people are really having a voice. And they’re saying, ‘I’ve seen this and I don’t agree with it.’”
Many fans still wore Kaepernick’s No. 7, the NFL’s hottest selling jersey, to Levi’s Stadium. He’s still a target of derision and perhaps hatred. But he’s no pariah. All he wanted was to spark a conversation. In that, he has succeeded.
And he’s not alone.