500 Days of Kaepernick: Through The Anxiety, Never Forget The Man

March 1st, 2017 was the first day former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was not on an NFL roster since being drafted by the team in 2011.

July 14th, 2018, marked 500 days of Kaepernick not being signed by a team.

While I will admit I have not watched much NFL football in over two seasons, I believe I can confidently state that the reasons why he remains unsigned do not include his potential ability to play quarterback. Though Kaepernick has been absent, the NFL has had its share of controversy. Between criminal accusations surrounding players and racial comments from franchise owners, the league has been in a maelstrom of events that bring its overall credibility into question.

At this point, it is very easy to pick through and dismantle the many hypocrisies that surround the NFL. Articles that acknowledge the significance of Kaepernick’s absence will sort through and hold the NFL accountable for its poor handling not just of Kaepernick, but of various protests, criminal charges and bigoted statements from those who own NFL teams all the way to those who wanted to own an NFL team but didn’t. I’d like to focus on Kaepernick the man. I don’t want him to ever be overlooked, nor do I want the magnitude of his decision to put his name on the line to combat social injustice.

He is one of eleven quarterbacks who have played in the Super Bowl this decade. Yes, there are only two teams and two starting quarterbacks per Super Bowl. But there are 32 teams in the NFL, all with championship aspirations, and only 11 quarterbacks among those 32 teams have vied for an NFL title since 2011. Though it took an injury to Alex Smith in 2011 for Kaepernick to receive the starting job, he was good enough to keep it. His star was trending upward as he played in Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens. While the Niners lost, it was evident that Kaepernick could play and thrive in the NFL. Once the Niners let go of head coach Jim Harbaugh, the team worsened and Kaepernick’s play and image with it. He lost his starting job to Blaine Gabbert, and when Gabbert was benched, Kaepernick was efficient on a terrible team despite the team’s poor record.

Then, he decided to protest during the national anthem. If one takes a look at any of Kaepernick’s social media accounts, it’s obvious that his passion to fight social injustice existed before he initially chose to take a seat. After speaking to a former Green Beret, he decided this form of protest – kneeling instead of sitting – would be the best. Amidst backlash, vitriol and downright racist reactions, Kaepernick stayed vigilant in his protest, answering questions confidently and reminding anyone who could hear the true nature of his mission.

Kaepernick’s continued his pursuit of social justice while his livelihood has been placed on hold, donating to charities and inspiring people to join the fight for change. (WJLA)

It requires a tremendous amount of courage to pursue social change. Consider that Colin Kaepernick joined a fight that has been going on well before he was born and will be going on well after he passes away. Martin Luther King Jr. will have been dead 50 years this year after being assassinated in Memphis. The social climate is still in such terrible shape that Kaepernick still feels the need to offer his services to help better it. To understand that his journey could lead him to never experience playing in the NFL again, after proving he is good enough to be on a roster, is a sacrifice that should never be forgotten.

Kaepernick is not a martyr. He has not been killed because of his decision to protest police brutality. It’s also safe to assume that because of his tenure in the NFL, he is and will be financially stable long-term. This is highlighted by him pledging to donate one million dollars to various charities over the course of 2017. But understand that sacrifice has no class restriction. The call to action does not discriminate; and though social change is necessary for those in the minority, participation in helping to effect change can include all people with varying elements of privilege and fortune. Kaepernick reached the pinnacle of athletics, made a career of his ability and became a millionaire through it. With all that success in life, Colin Kaepernick is still a minority. And because he understands his success and the life it has afforded him, he decided to potentially permanently give that up to add a voice to activism that not only involves his contributions, but inspires others of similar and dissimilar success to contribute in ways they best can.

We are living in a time in which history will highlight profound moments that have happened this decade in this country. It is very important to always fully acknowledge bigotry, hypocrisy and varying levels of aggression geared towards systemic oppression. But the people who thrust themselves into movements of change and the sacrifice given in the midst of everything from disagreement to hate in an effort to silence — or worse, minimize — their efforts to make this world a better place, should be honored as they are, while they’re still actively pursuing social change. Praise and appreciate Colin Kaepernick for his commitment to a cause bigger than him.

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