(1) What is next for Colin Kaepernick?
(2) Does Colin Kaepernick fully understand the ramifications of his actions?
Let’s take Question No. 2 first. The San Francisco 49ers’ mercurial quarterback told highly respected writer Steve Wyche of the NFL Network that he was prepared for the intense backlash.
Background: Kaepernick staged a one-man sit-out late Friday night when he refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem. Anyone who watches sports has seen the opposite ritual thousands of times before the start of a contest: Athlete focuses on the U.S. flag, stands at attention, usually with right hand placed over the heart. Olympians do it, major league baseball players do it, NHL players do it, NBA players do it, NFL players do it.
Except this NFL player sat this one out. Before his 49ers played the Green Bay Packers in a preseason game in Santa Clara, Calif.
After the game, Kaepernick explained his motives to Wyche: “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.”
Kaepernick, presumably, was referring to recent, highly publicized killings of black men by police in Baton Rouge, La., suburban Minneapolis, Baltimore, Chicago and Milwaukee. Ugly encounters that have led to riots in some cases.
Thus, with his comments, Kaepernick automatically became the most polarizing athlete on the U.S. sports scene. Resident goofball, Ryan Lochte, you are suddenly off the hook. Poof. Like waving a magic wand. The swimming waters officially are safe again.
And by definition, just like that, the NFL has been squarely posited into a national free-speech debate.
In response to this imbroglio, the NFL voiced its side in a simple statement: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”
With that, there are two other possible scenarios that loom as sticky situations:
—Suppose other players follow Kaepernick’s lead.
—Suppose other players publicly condemn him, especially his own teammates.
Now, back to Question No. 1. What’s next?
When the story surfaced, almost immediately Aubrey Huff, a former major league player who won two World Series rings with the San Francisco Giants, hit Twitter, big time: “This guy is a joke. Get lost. You don’t like it in a country that has given you opportunity to succeed? Then get out.”
Huff obviously was referring to Kaepernick’s lofty contract with the 49ers: six years, $114 million, with $61 million guaranteed.
Well, on Sunday night, before a gaggle of 40 to 50 media members at his 49ers locker after practice — an unusually high number of press for a preseason interview — Kaepernick expounded on his actions from two nights earlier:
“Yes, I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
That comment suggests Kaepernick — a 29-year-old biracial athlete who was raised by white adoptive parents and siblings — will maintain his sit-down stance during the regular season.
Suppose longtime season-ticket holders, who tend to be older, wealthier and white, take a stance of their own? As in issue the 49ers an ultimatum: Either ship out No. 7, or we will stop attending home games at Levi’s Stadium.
Suppose that sentiment spreads to road games. Because patriotism can be deeply ensconced in the consciousness of the United States. The patriotism lobby is a powerful force in the United States.
All of which places the 49ers in a precarious, and possibly an intractable, position. What if the 49ers waive or trade the underachieving, but expensive, Kaepernick? We can hear the conspiracy theorists buzzing in our ears right now, especially if an underperforming Kaepernick proves to be a season-long distraction.
The 49ers next play the Chargers in San Diego on Sept. 1. The team’s regular season begins Sept. 12 in a nationally televised Monday night game that will mark the Rams’ return to Los Angeles after a 22-year absence.
Might be must-see TV. Before kickoff, that is.