For San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, this year’s NFL season isn’t going to be business as usual.
When "The Star-Spangled Banner" played to kick off the team’s third preseason game against the Green Bay Packers on Friday, Kaepernick took a stand against racial injustice by sitting down during the national anthem.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told the NFL after the game. "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."
Kaepernick did not tell his team about his action before the game because he’s "not looking for approval." But in an official statement, the 49ers said it respected his right to use the moment to take a political stance:
The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.
Black athletes are increasingly using their platforms to call out racial injustice
Over the past two years, with the momentum of the movement for black lives, black athletes, like those of the past, have brought race front and center to their sport.
In November 2014, players for the St. Louis Rams ran onto the field in a "hands up, don’t shoot" gesture in solidarity with the protestors in nearby Ferguson, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed by former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. The next month, NBA players Derrick Rose, LeBron James, and Kyrie Irving were seen in warmups sporting "I Can’t Breathe" shirts on the court to honor Eric Garner, 43, who died after NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo put him in an illegal chokehold.
Black players for the Minnesota Lynx wore Black Lives Matter shirts during warmup following the killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling by police in early July.
Even Olympic gold medalist Simone Manuel called out police brutality following her historic win in Rio two weeks ago — just days after the Department of Justice released a scathing report of racism endemic to the Baltimore Police Department that is mirrored in police departments around the country.
A number of prominent black athletes are making it abundantly clear to the public, and national sports associations, that racism isn’t just something they will leave behind and pick up based on the games they play. But that’s because black people, even famous athletes, are susceptible to racist policing practices, and rarely does the US criminal justice system hold police officers accountable.