For the last two seasons, the NFL has struggled with how to handle the handful of players who have knelt during pre-game performances of the national anthem to protest police violence and other injustices against black Americans.
This week the NFL announced a controversial new policy that will require players on the field to “stand and show respect for the flag and for the Anthem.” Players who do not wish to do so must stay in the locker room. If players violate the policy, the team will be fined.
As criticism and praise rolled in from NFL figures and politicians, people naturally turned an expectant ear to the man who started it all: former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The then-San Francisco 49er was among the first players to kneel during the 2016-2017 season and has become the de facto figurehead of what is now known as the #TakeAKnee movement.
So far, Kaepernick has not commented on the new policy, and a lot of NFL fans aren’t holding their breath. There are a few reasons for this.
A legal battle
First of all, Kaepernick is currently in a high-profile legal battle with the NFL. He and former teammate Eric Reid have both filed grievances against the league, saying its owners colluded to keep the two players from being hired when they reached free agency (a time when a player’s contract runs out and they are able to be hired by another team).
Kaepernick filed his suit in October 2017 while Reid, who knelt with Kaepernick several times in 2016, filed a similar suit this month. These litigations are ongoing and both players are being represented by attorney Mark Geragos, who is also a CNN contributor.
This week, it was reported that internal team documents reviewed in relation to the suit showed teams viewed Kaepernick as a starting quarterback in 2017. That’s a pretty big revelation, because up until this point the big debate has been whether the former Super Bowl quarterback has been unemployed for football-related reasons or because of his controversial protests.
Is the ongoing litigation one of the reasons Kaepernick has so far remained mum? Maybe. CNN has reached out to Geragos for comment.
A whole team behind him
While Kaepernick technically hasn’t said anything himself, it’s not exactly fair to say his camp has been quiet. “Team Kaepernick,” as his closest allies call themselves, has definitely been speaking up.
Kaepernick’s mother, Teresa Kaepernick, reprimanded Vice President Mike Pence after he praised the NFL’s anthem decision by tweeting “Winning!”
“There is no winner here, everyone loses,” Teresa Kaepernick responded. “You are simply dividing this country even more with this thoughtless and immature tweet.”
Geragos also parodied the Vice President’s tweet by linking to a section of the federal code prohibiting elected officials from influencing the hiring decisions of private entities, which also apparently references to the two players’ suits against the NFL. “Winning!,” he wrote.
The tweet was re-tweeted by Kaepernick’s personal account and that of his partner, radio host Nessa, who is a prominent figure in Kaepernick’s charitable and social ventures. Another comment by Geragos was re-tweeted by Eric Reid’s personal account.
So while Kaepernick (and Reid) may be staying quiet about the NFL’s policy decision for now, the quarterback is still saying something.
A strategic silence
In the two years since his simple act of kneeling sparked a national firestorm, Kaepernick has become a prominent social justice advocate apart from his actions on the field.
He recently completed a $1 million donation pledge to organizations and charities across the country. He also runs a youth empowerment campaign called the Know Your Rights Camp. In April, Amnesty International named him their 2018 Ambassador of Conscience.
In other words, he has other things on his agenda now. And his silence may be by design.
Last year, Kaepernick partnered with GQ for a project as part of his appointment as the magazine’s 2017 Citizen of the Year. During the project, the magazine said he wanted to “reclaim the narrative of his protest.”
“But Colin also made it clear to us that he intended to remain silent,” the article read. “As his public identity has begun to shift from football star to embattled activist, he has grown wise to the power of his silence.”