His career went into a free fall after he brought the San Francisco 49ers within a pass of Super Bowl victory four seasons ago. But now Colin Kaepernick is in the news again after he stayed seated during the national anthem at a preseason game last week. Kaepernick cited what he calls ongoing racism and police brutality in America for his decision not to stand.
And although he will play second-string behind Blaine Gabbert this season, Kaepernick’s statements led to a spike in sales of football jerseys with his No. 7 on the back.
On Monday, Kaepernick’s jersey outsold those of all his teammates’ put together, according to ESPN reporter Darren Rovell, with more sold in the previous week than over the past eight months combined. That may not sound impressive, considering the 49ers came off an awful 2015 and are expected to repeat that performance again this season.
But as of press time, the now-backup quarterback’s $100 jersey kept surging in popularity. After Labor Day weekend, his red version was the top seller on NFLShop.com, outselling stars such as Carson Wentz and Ezekiel Elliott. Kaepernick reportedly said any revenues he receives from those sales will go to charity.
Kaepernick’s stand on race relations in America reaped reactions all over the map. Spike Lee compared Kaepernick’s actions to Muhammad Ali’s stand against the Vietnam War in the 1960s. But some don’t agree, and one NFL analyst even criticized Kaepernick because he’s “not black.” (Kaepernick is biracial and was adopted by white parents.) Tommie Smith, one of the athletes who gave the Black Power salute during a medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, defended him.
Others savaged Kaepernick for his stance. One of them is his birthmother, who did not reappear in his life until he hit stardom four years ago. Others have made the assumption that since he was raised by white parents, he really does not understand racism or is simply taking on a political stance that is inappropriate. Those who were offended by Kaepernick’s activism have responded in kind, with plenty of racist trolling leveled his way.
Not that comments about his background and race are new to Kaepernick. His stratospheric rise during his rookie 2012 season put him under a microscope, and not always under the best lens. The fact that his physique is draped in tattoos, many of which are Biblical verses, garnered plenty of snarky assumptions. Kaepernick’s appearance led one Sporting News analyst to compare him to a San Quentin inmate. After the outrage on social media, an editor responded that David Whitley’s op-ed was not about race, but a “generational issue.”
As Guardian writer Rebecca Carroll noted, Kaepernick is another African-American public figure whose looks, behavior and actions have been scrutinized far differently from those of a white athlete or celebrity:
“He is a reminder that being black in America, no matter how light or dark skinned you are, means shielding yourself against the inevitable arbitrary assessment of your worth at the drop of a dime.”
To many African Americans, the discussion about Kaepernick shows that there is a double standard when it comes to comparing the actions of white and black athletes. We recently saw it during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Many were quick to defend the vapid and inarticulate Ryan Lochte after his shenanigans in Brazil, with many downplaying the 32-year-old’s behavior by saying “boys will be boys.” A few days before that chapter, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas was attacked and trolled for her body language during a medal ceremony.
Kaepernick stands out for the fact that he is taking on all of society and is pointing out that, from his perspective, injustice and hypocrisy are everywhere. And no one really knows how to respond. One CNN analyst applauded Kaepernick – until No. 7 said Hillary Clinton should be in jail over her deleted emails. “A rant of the type you hear from the conservative right!” complained Clay Cane.
Whatever you think of Kaepernick, it is clear that many have long tried to pigeon-hole him, and he is not having it. The result is that many of us are spending more time analyzing the messenger than listening to his message. But that message is resonating, as the renewed interest in his jersey, due to the fashion statement many want to make, show.
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