San Francisco 49ers quarterback and Turlock native Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the national anthem until he sees improved race relations in the United States – something that has caused a wildfire of discussion both nationwide and locally.
Kaepernick sat on his team’s bench Friday while the anthem played, just before kickoff in an exhibition game between the 49ers and the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium. It was the third game he had done so, but only the first where viewers took notice. He later explained his reasoning for sitting in an interview with NFL media.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," said Kaepernick. "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 insisted whatever the consequences, he will know "I did what's right." He said he hasn't heard from the NFL or anyone else about his actions — and it won't matter if he does.
"No one's tried to quiet me and, to be honest, it's not something I'm going to be quiet about," he said. "I'm going to speak the truth when I'm asked about it. This isn't for look. This isn't for publicity or anything like that. This is for people that don't have the voice. And this is for people that are being oppressed and need to have equal opportunities to be successful. To provide for families and not live in poor circumstances."
Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents. He has been outspoken on his Twitter account on civil rights issues and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he told NFL Media. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."
Though Kaepernick told NFL media on Sunday that his stand is not against men and women in the military, many people have taken offense to his chosen form of protest. Turlockers took to Facebook in the days following to voice their opinions on the topic.
“What! You have got to be kidding me, he was raised in white bread Turlock, went to Pitman a brand new high school, his parents live in Del Rio, the richest neighborhood and he makes millions,” posted Sheri Yagi in response to Kaepernick’s comments.Facebook user Turner Brennecke shared a viral video of a 49ers fan burning his Kaepernick jersey.
“It’s a disgrace you’re from my hometown,” said Brennecke. “I’m with this guy burning your jersey.”
Kaepernick is in competition to win back the starting quarterback job in San Francisco that he lost to Blaine Gabbert last season. During his time as the 49ers quarterback, Kaepernick was a hero in Turlock, with various businesses either sharing their support through hanging his jersey on their walls, or even creating menu items after him.
Main Street Footer’s held a contest to name a hot dog after Kaepernick in 2013, and the Kaepernick Footer was born. Now, Footer’s has made the decision to pull the Kaepernick Footer from their menu following his protest.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t agree with his message he was trying to portray, we just don’t think he went about it in the appropriate way,” said Molly Amant of Footer’s. “We decided that for now, it would be better for us to pull the hot dog and we will go from there.”
Amant said that the decision to pull the hot dog was an “instant reaction” to news that he had sat during the playing of the national anthem. Despite multiple online reviews calling for the removal of the hot dog from the Footer’s menu, Amant said fear of community backlash had nothing to do with the decision.
“We had reviews from people saying they wouldn’t eat here if we didn’t take it down, but I don’t think that played into our decision because we had already removed it,” said Amant.
Turlock resident and former Pitman High School student Ashley Singh weighed in on the controversy as well. Kaepernick played quarterback at PHS and graduated in 2006.
“Kaepernick’s status as a millionaire and famous football player, a lifestyle afforded to him by his country, does not mean that he has not faced prejudice nor that he cannot speak on behalf of people who suffer from systemic racism every day,” said Singh. “How is it that we celebrate a presidential candidate whose whole political campaign is the idea behind making America great ‘again,’ criticizing and mocking America incessantly with incredibly racist undertones, and yet he has been rewarded by being on our 2016 presidential ballot. It seems like a double standard to me.”
Amid both the backlash and support, Kaepernick appears to be ready for whatever comes next.
"I think there's a lot of consequences that come along with this. There's a lot of people that don't want to have this conversation," he said. "They're scared they might lose their job. Or they might not get the endorsements. They might not be treated the same way. Those are things I'm prepared to handle. ...
"At this point, I've been blessed to be able to get this far and have the privilege of being able to be in the NFL, making the kind of money I make and enjoy luxuries like that. I can't look in the mirror and see people dying on the street that should have the same opportunities that I've had."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.