When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem before an August preseason game against Green Bay, he was the only one.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” the quarterback told NFL.com following the game.
What started as a lone player’s attempt to spark a conversation about police overreach and violence rapidly became the subject of national attention and debate, leaving many wondering: What would happen when the season began in earnest? Would the quarterback continue to sit alone?
In week one, Kaepernick’s protest was joined by nearly a dozen players around the league.
Some, like Miami Dolphins running back Arian Foster, took a knee during the anthem. Others, like Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, raised their fists in the air, echoing John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s iconic protest from the 1968 Summer Olympics.
According to Robert Kelmko of Sports Illustrated’s MMQB, over 70 current and former players are “discussing and debating” Kaepernick’s act and possible next steps via text.
Some commentators — and even a few of their teammates — have criticized the protesters for disrespecting the flag and veterans. But for many of the players showing solidarity, their message is too important to waste the moment.
Here’s why they’re doing it, in their own words:
Many spoke about their desire to use their position in the public eye to keep the conversation going about the role of police in communities of color.
A few team executives have criticized Kaepernick. But one owner — Miami Dolphins’ Steve Ross — stood up for his players’ right to speak their minds:
And the man who started it all? He’d rather do what critics are asking him to do. On one condition: