Updated: May 20, 2020
Over the last few years, very few images have been more iconic in the sporting world than the one of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The image looks something like this: a line of 49ers players standing while their quarterback is kneeling on one knee. This photo was taken during the national anthem, but still, at first glance, this picture is far from earth shattering. Maybe Kaepernick caught a cramp, maybe his shoe was untied so be bent down to retie it, or maybe he was just a bit tired.
The thing about pictures is that, although they can show so much, they still lack the ability to capture the whole situation.
We can tell by looking at Kaepernick’s face that he is serious and bearing some sort of weight. Maybe he did take a knee just because he was tired. But when I see the picture, I just can’t help but think that he wasn’t tired from enduring a quarterback’s constant car-crashlike hits, but rather tired from standing.
Colin Kaepernick could no longer stand and live with the constant lashings of an unequal society. As a professional athlete, Kaepernick has a platform that most people do not. Society inherently respects athletes as they are seemingly larger than life. Kaepernick acknowledged this opportunity and took it as a chance to speak for those who have no voice.
“This stand wasn’t for me,” Kaepernick said. “This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”
Isn’t this what America was built on? Wasn’t this country built on the opportunity to stand up for a cause? To protest injustices, all while holding the possibility of bringing about change? Most people would agree, and the U.S. constitution definitely concurs. So why is Colin Kaepernick unemployed? Why won’t any NFL team sign him? He has proven himself in the league. He knows how to win and he has even taken his team to a Super Bowl.
“We are infatuated with symbols in America: the Stars and Stripes, the Liberty Bell, Confederate statues,” said Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated. “This, as much as anything, explains why Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned.”
Rosenberg added that because Kaepernick was the first to protest he has become “the symbol of the movement.” NFL teams do not want to deal with the face of a political and racial protest. They will employ players who follow in the steps of the martyr, but will never sign the one bearing the cross.
Perhaps if Kaepernick were a third-string quarterback he would still have a job. In fact that is likely the case. The NFL knows that fans are not going to be concerned with the actions of the backup’s backup. But the starting QB? The face of the franchise? No one wants to deal with the attention that may bring.
Unfortunately for Kaepernick and all of the faces of change, “the first one through the wall always gets bloody.”