EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was originally written and published in 2016.
The recent controversy surrounding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his refusal to stand during the playing of the national anthem has led a swarm of media personnel straight to Turlock’s doorstep, painting a vivid picture of our city for the rest of the world to see, however, the image that has been portrayed isn’t an accurate one.
Claims from The Mercury News out of San Jose that Turlock, a town “dipped in a red, white and blue fondue,” has “exiled” its one-time golden boy, allegations that Turlock Unified School District Superintendent Dana Trevethan put a gag order into place and prohibited any TUSD employees from speaking on the subject and reports that all local businesses have disavowed their support of Kaepernick are simply not true.
Two years ago, Kaepernick was in his prime as the Niners quarterback, following his Super Bowl XLVII appearance and next season’s performance which led the team to the NFC Championship game for the second straight year. Turlock was alive with support for the young Pitman High School alum. But, as with any player, not everyone supported him. Turlock is a diverse town, made up of many minds and fans of different football teams. To say that the entire town was made up of Niner fans supporting Kaepernick would be stretching the truth – Raiders fans reside in Turlock, Cowboys fans reside in Turlock and plenty of other supporters of different NFL teams call Turlock home.
As was the case during Kaepernick’s best days, so is the case during his worst. Sure, there are many Turlock residents disappointed in Kaepernick’s chosen form of protest. But to say that the entire city has turned its back on him, as many national publications including The Mercury News and The San Francisco Chronicle have done, is to completely ignore those in the city who stand with Kaepernick and his right to freedom of speech.
In just one stroll down Main Street, I was able to find five people who support Kaepernick’s protest – two of whom are actively serving in the military – in only 15 minutes time.
“I think he’s well within his rights,” said Francisco Ochoa, who is an Army recruiter. “He’s not offending me – he did quite the contrary.”
“He’s exercising his first amendment right,” added Crystal Fox, who is also in the military. “He didn’t disrespect any military personnel, and his right to protest is part of the rights we defend.”
The Mercury News interviewed a total of four Turlock residents in a video they produced which is currently making the rounds on Facebook, depicting us as a town who doesn’t have a single soul supporting Kaepernick or his cause. If I could find five people in one walk, imagine what an entire production team could have uncovered with just a little bit more effort.
In the article accompanying the video, The Mercury News claimed that “people aren't willing to investigate why Kaepernick would go to such lengths, not even in Turlock.”
What people? I spoke to and have heard from multiple Turlock residents who are more than willing to investigate and support why Kaepernick would go to such lengths.
“I think a lot of people are missing the point…a civil protest was taken as disrespect to the military rather than paying attention to the actual problem he is bringing attention to,” said Matt Eichsteadt, who told me his views on the topic as he enjoyed coffee at La Mo Café with his friend, Tara Dybas.
“I think it’s a stupid conversation to have…it doesn’t hurt anyone and he’s allowed to have an opinion,” said Dybas. “I’m not sure how the flag and the anthem relate directly to the military or why it’s offensive.”
Elisabeth Schendel shared The Mercury News’ video on Facebook, expressing dismay at how her hometown is being portrayed online.
“Just one of the many poorly researched news pieces about Turlock that I've been expecting,” she wrote. “An angry hometown gets more views than a supportive town. Not one person of color and not one Turlockian who supported Kaep was interviewed.”
Claims by various news organizations that TUSD has placed a gag order on all school employees are false as well, untruthfully creating an image of a town that is panicking after the “fall” of the seemingly only thing it had to be proud of – Kaepernick.
According to Trevethan, the District’s standard with handling complex matters such as this is to direct any and all questions to the District office, which in this case prepared a statement regarding Kaepernick’s protest.
“Colin Kaepernick graduated from Pitman High School in 2006 and has been celebrated as a professional athlete in the Turlock community,” Trevethan’s statement reads. “As a District, we believe in America, and we encourage standing during the singing of the Star Spangled Banner and showing respect for the American flag; we do, however, recognize that student and adult freedoms can sometimes lead to controversy.”
While the PHS front office did inform media to direct their questions to the District office, a gag order was never mentioned.
“A gag order was never put in place by me or anyone else,” said Trevethan.
PHS Principal Amy Curd – Kaepernick’s favorite teacher during his time at the school – confirmed that no gag order has been enforced, despite some news outlets’ claims that she was forbidden from speaking.
“…all requests for information about issues that are sensitive in nature are referred to the Superintendent’s Office,” said Curd. “At the sites, we are focused on the learning and engagement of our students and we do our very best to minimize disruptions to our school community. No gag order or the like has been enforced at any level.”
Whether these are lies being put out by the media or have simply been misunderstandings between reporters and TUSD employees, the incorrect reporting has created the image that Turlock, along with its school district, is trying to distance itself from Kaepernick as much as possible.
While Main Street Footer’s has in fact removed its Kaepernick hotdog from the menu, The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “the cute little 49ers’ No. 7 jersey cookie is no longer available at Olde Tyme Pastries.” Well, that makes sense. The shop only offered them last season if a customer ordered them, and the bakery plans to do the same this year.
Amid the illusion that national media has created which claims local businesses, such as Olde Tyme, have discarded all things Kaepernick, there are plenty of businesses which still proudly display No. 7 memorabilia. Mr. Pickle’s Sandwich Shop in Turlock, for example, has kept their Kaepernick items displayed. Jura’s Pizza has also kept their Kaepernick jersey and photographs on their walls.
“He’s still our local hometown boy and is still playing,” said Jura’s owner Papiola Aghassi. “We have to look at it and understand why he’s doing it…now that he’s speaking out about the issues, more people are understanding what’s going on.”
Perhaps there is more we can learn from this, as Aghassi pointed out. If those who oppose Kaepernick’s protest could listen to why he feels the need to speak out against racial injustice, and if those who support his protest could understand why others may be upset, we might just be able to label Turlock as a place that supports the man who brought so much happiness to our city in years prior.
It seems as if the national media is set on not only falsely reporting that we have turned our back on Kaepernick, but making him turn his back on us as well. Instead of being known for “exiling” our hometown hero for his beliefs, his supporters should be so loud that The Mercury News, The San Francisco Chronicle and others shaming us have no trouble hearing our encouragement toward him.