Inicio Deporte Colin Kaepernick: From one man kneeling to a movement dividing a country

Colin Kaepernick: From one man kneeling to a movement dividing a country


“This is what lynchings look like in 2016.”

A video accompanies Colin Kaepernick’s Instagram post. It begins as two white police officers wrestle a black man to the floor.

One officer appears to cuff the man’s hands behind his back. Another, positioned by the man’s shoulders, tightly presses his head to the ground.

The same officer moves one hand away, reaching for his gun. He points it to the man’s chest, and fires.

Alton Sterling, 37, died of gunshot wounds to the chest and back.

“Another murder in the streets because of the colour of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us,” Kaepernick writes.

“When will they be held accountable?”

The next day, 6 July 2016, another black man is shot dead by a police officer.

Philando Castile, 32, is shot seven times during a traffic stop. He died in the driver’s seat with his girlfriend beside him and her four-year-old daughter in the back.

Police dashcam footage shows officer Jeronimo Yanez firing several times into the car. He pulled it over because of a broken brake light.

The microphone on Yanez’s uniform picks up this exchange:

Yanez: “You have a licence and insurance?”


Castile: “Sir, I do have to tell you I have a firearm on me.”

Yanez: “OK, OK. Don’t reach for it then. Don’t pull it out.”

Castile: “I’m not pulling it out.”

Yanez: “Don’t pull it out.”

After the shots were fired, Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds took out her mobile phone and livestreamed from inside the car as the officer screamed for her not to move.

“Please don’t tell me my boyfriend just went like that,” she says.

“Please officer don’t tell me you just did this to him. You shot four bullets into him, sir. He was just getting his licence.”

Reynolds is handcuffed and held in the back of a police car with her daughter, who says: “Please stop cussing because I don’t want you to get shooted. I can keep you safe.”

Thursday, 7 July 2016.

A black former member of the US Army Reserve kills five police officers as a Black Lives Matter march is held in Dallas. The march was organised to protest against the shootings of the previous two days.

Micah Johnson, 25, is himself killed following a stand-off with police, who sent remotely detonated explosives into the car park where he had taken refuge.

The city’s police chief David Brown reveals Johnson told a negotiator he had wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers, because he was angry about the recent shootings of black men by police.

He is said to have shouted: “How many did I get?”

‘A very deep thinker’

The tattoo across his chest reads: “Against all odds.”

Kaepernick was adopted, a mixed-race baby raised by a white family. The Kaepernicks had two young sons who died because of heart defects. They wanted another child.

Their boy grew up to become a superstar, and one of the most divisive figures in the United States.

At high school he was a brilliant baseball pitcher, but the NFL was his focus. He could throw the ball. A quarterback.

Colin Kaepernick and his mum Teresa
Kaepernick posted this photo with his mum Teresa with the caption: “She showed me how my heart was supposed to radiate! Love you!”

First, he had to reach the college game. It wasn’t easy. Scouts from the University of Nevada – the only one to eventually offer him a scholarship – watched the clips his older brother had burned to DVD, but even they were not convinced.

They took a gamble because they saw him dominate a high-school basketball game he really should have missed, having been struck down with fever the same day.

He went to college. He studied for a degree in business management, excelled on the pitch, and opened his curious mind wide to the world.

Dr Reginald Stewart spent 19 years at the University of Nevada, and knew Kaepernick during his time there.

He told USA Today: “He is very, very smart and very intellectual. He’s a very deep thinker. What he’s doing is absolutely and directly in line with how he’s always communicated.

“It’s not like I turned on the TV and was like: ‘Wow, where did this come from?’ I was like, you know what, he has been thinking about these issues for at least the time I’ve known him. At some point, he made the decision that this was important enough for him to act.”

Kaepernick is drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2011. He leads them to the Super Bowl two years later, but they lose to the Baltimore Ravens.

He continues to read widely – about the civil rights movement and post-colonial theory, Malcom X’s autobiography and Franz Fanon’s The Wretched Of The Earth.

He begins to attend classes at the University of California, Berkeley, having befriended Ameer Hasan Loggins, who is working towards his doctorate in African Diaspora Studies.

In August, Loggins wrote an article for The Athletic about their relationship. He compared Kaepernick to Ella Baker, the civil rights activist who died in 1986, aged 83.

“She was a civil/human rights leader that was invested in developing a leaderful movement,” Loggins wrote. “She pushed the folks to politicise and mobilise the people via group-centred leadership.

“Here I am, taking leadership cues from Ella Baker, and next thing I know I am in the inner circle of a passionate, intelligent and conscious NFL star with a tremendous heart and a righteous indignation over the treatment of the oppressed.

“I met Kaepernick before he became a cultural icon and a lightning rod for both hope and hatred.

“People that trace our connection to UC Berkeley assume he became politicised in my class. But Colin was aware, focused, well-read, eager to learn.”

And then came three days in July last year.

The perilous fight

The singer pauses, hanging between verses. He knows – like the thousands standing around him in the stands, on the pitch and on the stage – that the Star-Spangled Banner, the American national anthem, is about to reach its highest point.

Kaepernick is on the team bench. Sandwiched between two giant soft-drink barrels, he sits alone as thousands roar and whoop in appreciation.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he says after the pre-season match in August 2016.

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

Kaepernick sitting on the bench
Kaepernick, with his shirt number slightly obscured, is by the orange drinks cart

This is not his first protest. But it is his first protest in team kit. And it is the first time he is asked about it.

His silent, solitary gesture of solidarity makes a lot of people very angry. One of those is Nate Boyer. He used to be in the US Army Special Forces and is a former NFL player.

“When I saw that, I felt like I was betrayed. It just hurt. It was extremely disgraceful for me. In my eyes you might as well burn the flag,” he told the BBC.

“That was my initial reaction before I stopped and thought: ‘What is he so upset about that he would want to protest the symbol of what our country stands for – which is freedom of rights?'”

Boyer decides to write an open letter to Kaepernick. And they meet.

The NFL star – in 2014 he signed a contract that would have been worth up to $126m (£95.8m) over six years – actually sends a taxi to take Boyer from San Diego to San Francisco, about an eight-hour drive along the California coast.

“I wanted him to stand – but I wanted him to stand because he feels like we are going in the right direction, like things are changing,” Boyer says of their meeting.

“I wanted him to understand the implications of what he was doing, and he listened. That was important, because we are at a time when people just shake their fists instead of trying to fix something together. We reached a position of consensus.”

A week later, Kaepernick protests again. This time he is joined by his team-mate Eric Reid, and both men kneel while the national anthem plays.

Boyer, (far right) stands with his hand on his heart as the anthem plays. Kaerpernick kneels with team-mate Eric Reid (left)
Boyer, (far right) stands with his hand on his heart as the anthem plays. Kaerpernick kneels with team-mate Eric Reid (left)

Boyer stands next to them. On the same night, at another match, Jeremy Lane of the Seattle Seahawks remains seated for the anthem. The movement is growing.

“It took courage for him to sit initially. It took more courage to bend his position a little bit,” Boyer adds.

“I told him if they knelt I would be next to them with my hand on my heart, because I support your right to peacefully protest in this country. That is what I fought for.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email