Colin Kaepernick made headlines in 2016 when he knelt during the national anthem. He set out to bring attention to police brutality, as well as to further social justice. The attention on his act of kneeling, however, proved to be a lightning rod of controversy. Many saw it as disrespecting the flag and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Before he knelt, Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem. This act caught the attention of military veteran Nate Boyer. Boyer would later meet Kaepernick and his 49ers teammate, Eric Reid, and explain why “kneeling in dissent was more respectful” than sitting in protest.
At the time, the NFL condemned Kaepernick’s actions. However, four years later, the league has changed its tone regarding the subject of racial injustice. Although Kaepernick has not returned to playing football in the NFL, his actions have been influential throughout the league.
Here are the five times that the league and other NFL players have shown support for Colin Kaepernick:
#1 - NFL launches social justice awareness initiatives
In 2020, the NFL unveiled its social justice awareness initiatives campaign. First, NFL end zones that season were inscribed with two slogans: “It Takes All Of Us” and “End Racism” on each side of the stadium’s end zones.
Second, the league allowed similar visuals to be shown on players' helmets and caps. NFL players were permitted to have decals on the back of their helmets that displayed names or phrases to honor victims of racism and police brutality.
#2 - Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall also knelt in support of Colin Kaepernick
In 2016, Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall also protested during the national anthem in a similar fashion to Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling in protest. Consequently, Marshall’s action cost him an endorsement deal with Air Academy Federal Credit Union.The financial institution stated its reason for terminating its relationship with Marshall:
"Although we have enjoyed Brandon Marshall as our spokesperson over the past five months, Air Academy Federal Credit Union (AAFCU) has ended our partnership, AAFCU is a membership-based organization who has proudly served the military community for over 60 years. While we respect Brandon's right of expression, his actions are not a representation of our organization and membership. We wish Brandon well on his future endeavors."
#3 - Marcus Peters raised his fist in support of Colin Kaepernick
That same season in 2016, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters stood during the national anthem but raised his fist in a show of support:
#4 - New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett and safety Devin McCourty also raised their fists in support.
That same season, New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett and safety Devin McCourty showed their support of Colin Kaepnerick and his cause by raising their fists during the Star Spangled Banner. McCourty would explain after the game why he and his teammate Bennett decided to hold up their fists instead of keeling:
"Around the NFL, a lot of guys are doing different things. It's all for the same cause, different social injustices. I wore socks with the American flag. I believe in this country. I love this country. My father was in the Army. My older brother was in the Army. Those men and women go out there and put their life on the line. I respect that. That's the reason why I didn't do anything during the national anthem because I respect it."
#5 - Eric Reid was the first player to kneel alongside Kaepernick
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid was there with the quarterback from the beginning. When the NFL started its social justice awareness initiative, Reid criticized the NFL for using Colin Kaepernick’s images in the league’s video campaign. Colin Kaepernick would also criticize the perceived blackballing of Reid because the safety was a free agent in 2019 and received no offers from NFL teams.
Both Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid would end up agreeing to a settlement with the NFL over their filed grievance against the league, alleging that the league and NFL owners colluded to prevent either player from signing onto a new NFL team.