Colin Kaepernick And First Amendment Vs. Critics

Matthew Hollie
7 min readAug 12, 2018

In America today, African-Americans have been disenfranchised by a current administration that fan the flames of social injustice in today's society. But a few people are bringing more light to what is happening in America today, and one of them is Colin Kaepernick.

During the 2016 NFL season beginning with the San Francisco 49ers third preseason game, Kaepernick was seen sitting down during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” as opposed to the tradition of standing up during the anthem. Colin explained his position during a post-game interview by saying, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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.” Those comments were referencing a series of events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement which started with the Trayvon Martin murder by George Zimmerman, the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of cops in recent years, and the mistreatment of African-Americans by police. He added that he would continue to protest until he feels like the American flag represents what it's supposed to represent, which is liberty and justice for all. In the fourth and final preseason game, Kaepernick opted to kneel during the national anthem rather than sit as he did in their previous games, explaining that his decision to switch was an attempt to show more respect to former and current U.S. military members while still protesting during the anthem after having a conversation with former NFL player and U.S. military veteran Nate Boyer. Folks, this is a former military man who suggested to Kaepernick to kneel rather than sit.

Kaepernick would soon become the most highly polarizing athlete during that time as many people took public stances either supporting or criticizing Kaepernick's actions; in many cases this polarization correlates with the racial divide of this great country. Various NFL players and other athletes across the United States, such as American professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe and Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell also began kneeling and/or raising their fist similar to the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. For those who don't know this or too young to remember, African-American athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos conducted a political demonstration by raising a black-gloved fist while they turned on the podium to face their flags, and to hear the American national anthem during their medal ceremony on October 16, 1968, at the 1968 Summer Olympiad in Mexico City. Also, Smith, Carlos, and Australian silver medalist Peter Norman all wore human rights badges on their jackets. In Tommie Smith's autobiography, Silent Gesture, he stated that the raised fist gesture was not a “Black Power” salute, but a “human rights salute.” That moment is regarded as one of the most overtly political statements in the history of the modern Olympic Games, and that got them kicked out of the Olympics after that. It also was a sign of things to come during the dreadful Donald Trump administration.

Some U.S. military veterans voiced support for Colin Kaepernick by using the social media hashtag “#VeteransForKaepernick.” In the following weeks, Kaepernick's jersey became the top-selling jersey on the NFL's official shop website. An NFL fan poll was taken during the beginning of the 2016 NFL season and Kaepernick was voted the most disliked player in the NFL; this poll was highly polarized, with 37% of Caucasians disliking him, and 42% of African-Americans liking him. Simply put, Kaepernick was a hero to African-Americans while being vilified by whites. And if the polarization was bad enough, a few people posted videos of them burning Kaepernick jerseys.

The opinions started to flood in, with former NFL MVP and current CBS Sports analyst Boomer Esiason called Kaepernick's actions “an embarrassment” while an anonymous NFL executive called Kaepernick “a traitor.” Former Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer criticized Kaepernick by saying the following on ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown; “The big thing that hit me through all this was this is a backup quarterback whose job is to be quiet, and sit in the shadows and get the starter ready to play Week 1. Yet he chose a time where all of a sudden he became the center of attention. And it has disrupted that organization. It has caused friction. And it's torn at the fabric of the team." Heck, even Boxer Floyd Mayweather criticized Kaepernick by stating, “You know, a lot of times, we get stuck, and we are followers. When you hear one person say ‘black lives matter’ or ‘blue lives matter,’ all lives matter.” Adding moments later, “With me being a fighter, and my hands being registered, if I hit a guy for breaking in my house, or breaking in my car, it’s gonna cost me more money, so I gotta work smarter, not harder. I’m gonna call the cops.”

But not all people criticized Kaepernick. Sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson says of the double bind faced by African-Americans: “Black folk have, throughout history, displayed their patriotism by criticizing the nation for its shortcomings, and they have been, in turn, roundly criticized.” Dyson suggested that the wisdom of historical abolitionist Frederick Douglass maintains relevance to racism in the context of Kaepernick and his protest. Dyson would later conclude, “When a black athlete bravely speaks up, we punish him.” Legendary sportscaster Bob Costas offered support for Colin by stating, "Patriotism comes in many forms and what has happened is it's been conflated with a bumper-style kind of flag-waving and with the military only so that people cannot see that in his own way Colin Kaepernick, however imperfectly, is doing a patriotic thing." In August of 2017, former NYPD officer Frank Serpico gave a speech on Facebook Live and stood with police officers at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in support of Kaepernick. And then there's people who are on the fence. Pro Football Hall of Famer and longtime civil rights activist Jim Brown told an interviewer that while he "wants to be in (Kaepernick's) corner", he would never "desecrate my flag and my national anthem."

The 2016 NFL season also saw a significant drop in television ratings. Polls suggest that fans boycotting the NFL because of Kaepernick-inspired protests contributed to the decline in viewers. Kaepernick also stated that he received death threats.

In September 2017, President Donald Trump sent out multiple tweets, in which he advocated that NFL players should be either fired or suspended if they fail to stand up for the national anthem. During a rally in Alabama last year, Trump unleashed the following words that pissed off plenty of folks; “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he's fired. He's fired!”

In response to his vitriolic remarks, many NFL teams and players stood together to protest against Trump's opinion. The players knelt, locked arms, or remained in the locker room during the playing of the anthem.

On March 3, 2017, Kaepernick made it official and opted out of his contract with the 49ers, which was part of his restructured contract, therefore making him a free agent at the start of the 2017 season. Following his exit from the 49ers, Kaepernick went unsigned through the 2017 offseason and training camps, leading to allegations that he was being blackballed because of his on-field political actions as opposed to his on-field performance, a notion supported by former Seattle Seahawks cornerback and current San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman. Other players, including New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Washington quarterback and former teammate Alex Smith, have stated that they believe his sporting ability is competitive in the NFL, and they are incredulous of his prolonged unemployment, while former quarterback Michael Vick argued that he was not signed because his performance had declined. Outside of the NFL, President Donald Trump made claims that Kaepernick's situation was caused by a fear that he would use Twitter to create a public relations crisis for any team that signed him, which allowed Trump to play a powerful role. Kyle Wagner of FiveThirtyEight analysed his recent performance and found that no above-average QB of his level stays unemployed that long, importing the reason must not be a sporting one, while Dan Graziano of ESPN reasoned that the issue dealt more with labor and management battles rather than Kaepernick's political beliefs or performance.

In late July and early August 2017, the Baltimore Ravens were reportedly working to extend an offer to Kaepernick. According to Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, the offer was terminated after Kaepernick's girlfriend Nessa Diab (who works as a radio host for Hot 97 in New York) posted an incendiary tweet that compared Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to a slave owner and former player Ray Lewis to a slave. That didn't work out well for either side. Other reports, however, stated that Bisciotti had been objecting to signing Kaepernick before the incident. An unknown high-ranking member of the military had also raised concerns about bringing the polarizing quarterback to Baltimore.

In November 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that NFL owners colluded to keep him out of the league. The suit is still ongoing, but the battle for a fair league rages on.

So, was Colin Kaepernick was blackballed? To some degree, yes. Blackballed by a league who viewed him as a distraction while African-Americans view him as a hero. And while President Donald Trump's wants players to “be happy, be cool,” and wants owners to fine them or suspend them for kneeling as well as having wars with the media, that takes away one of the fundamental ideals this country was based on; freedom of speech. The first amendment. The freedom to believe in something when it matters the most. Take that away, and you're a pile of garbage. That's what this adminstration is all about, being more nationalistic rather than helping the situation. Colin Kaepernick used his first amendment rights to speak or against social injustice, and that cost him his career.

Sometimes being a human being doesn’t hurt, but being lower than scum stinks.

Check out the video that proves that the 1st Amendment is a powerful tool.



Matthew Hollie

Writer who is an Agree to Disagree kind of person. passionate New York sports fan.