SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The word “cancer” was used by some 49ers players Sunday following the uproar over quarterback Colin Kaepernick‘s decision Friday to not stand for the National Anthem for a third time before a preseason game. Kaepernick’s reasoning: to protest what he feels is racial injustice in America.
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman didn’t say that Kaepernick or his stance was the “cancer,” but in-house divisiveness was and would be if players don’t work their way through Kaepernick’s new-found, pre-game ritual.
“Things like this break teams apart and we can’t let that happen,” Bowman said. “Colin chose to do this. We know Colin and we support him. We don’t think he is a bad teammate because he decided to voice his opinion.”
Other teammates, like many in the public, were and are bothered, especially since not standing for the National Anthem seems like a swipe at military servicemen and service women who sacrificed so Kaepernick could freely decide to do what he wants — like protest.
“I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country,” Kaepernick said. “I have family. I have friends that gone and fought for this country. They fight for freedom. They fight for the people. They fight for liberty and justice for everyone. And that’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up as far as, you know, giving freedom and justice and liberty to everybody.”
The 49ers held a team meeting Sunday that came as a result of Kaepernick’s actions Friday night and the aftermath of his remarks about racial injustice to NFL Media. Several players spoke, including Kaepernick. An understanding was broached by those who had varied opinions, several players said.
They left feeling unified as a team, while still having their individual beliefs.
“This could be the type of thing that creates division if you let it,” safety Antoine Bethea said. “That’s not why we are here. We are here to win football games and we are going to stick together.”
That result, Kaepernick said later, is part of why he has decided to take the path he’s chosen. Discussion about race and political issues by those of different races and those who share contrasting political beliefs could lead to solutions.
But that is just a step. Until something more prudent happens for what he believes is a larger cause Kaepernick said that he will continue to sit during the National Anthem.
“Yes, I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick said during an 18-minute interview session with reporters. “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 and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
When asked if he thought if there was a better way to make his point, Kaepernick said: “I don’t understand how it’s the wrong way.”
Kaepernick has gone rogue. Clearly.
All of his teammates, coaches and team staffers have stood for the National Anthem. The ones we spoke with said they plan to continue to do so, even those, like wide receiver Torrey Smith, who said he agreed with many of the points Kaepernick has otherwise made.
Kaepernick gets it. He said that he wouldn’t ask anyone to “stick their necks out.” If they want to, that’s on them but he’d welcome them.
He acknowledged that he’s made millions and might have a much softer landing spot than another teammate who might be down with the cause but can’t afford to miss a car payment.
“I think there’s a lot of consequences that come along with this,” Kaepernick said. “There’s a lot of people that don’t want to have this conversation. You know they’re scared they might lose their job or they might not get their endorsements, they might not be treated the same way. And those are things I’m prepared to handle.”
Kaepernick said that he has other ventures planned off the field to address his societal concerns. There will be more actions, he said, that could directly impact the oppressed people he’s trying to help.
A personal observation I’ve watched unfold since Kaepernick first spoke to me about his protest — and having dealt with him going all the way back to when I first met him at the Senior Bowl:
This is not a short-sighted rebellion.
In listening to him speak, he clearly has found his voice and mission. This isn’t some knee-jerk mission. He has spoken with other people, read and watched, thought about the subject matter, thought about what he wants to say and what the end-game might be — even if it means losing endorsements and/or his job.
To that final point, Kaepernick getting released by the 49ers can’t be ruled out. He hasn’t shown much on the field in games or practices, mainly because of health issues following multiple offseason surgeries. The organization probably isn’t thrilled with the type of attention his recent action has brought.
However, cutting him also would look retaliatory no matter if it was done for football reasons. The 49ers are in a tough spot.
Maybe what’s gone down this weekend is liberating for Kaepernick and he somehow rounds back into the player he once was, a starter and a star …
Who refuses to stand for the National Anthem.