Personally, I have never been much of a football fan. I grew up in a house with two sports-obsessed parents, and a part of me wonders if I don’t like sports because growing up I was forced to spend my Sunday afternoons at home so my folks didn’t miss a game. Boring.
Out of all of the sports I disdained, I really hated football. Maybe it’s because I’m from a city with mediocre football teams, but I never understood the excitement that went along with football season.
I went from living with my sports-obsessed parents to my sports-obsessed boyfriend. When we had cable, I was forced to surrender my television (and DVR) three nights a week: Monday, Thursday, and Sunday, so that he could watch as many football games as possible. I admit, my interest started to pique, as I would find myself rooting for certain players and trying to better understand the game. (I still don’t really understand it.) The year was 2012, just as quarterback Colin Kaepernick began playing for the San Francisco 49ers.
I will admit, I was not a fan of Kaepernick when he first burst onto the scene. I openly criticized the way he dressed for the pre- and post-game press conferences, often donning a hoodie and a pair of Beats headphones wrapped around his neck (now I know that he was a spokesperson for Beats) when other players looked far more put-together and professional. I thought that he seemed arrogant and entitled, and didn’t take his job requirements as seriously as the other players.
My disdain for him became a running joke between my dad and me (he would teasingly call him my “best friend”). I lumped Kaepernick in with the other football players I didn’t like — idiotic brutes, I thought. But then, last year, something changed in him, and I began to look at him in a different light. Kaepernick, who is biracial but grew up with white adoptive parents, made the announcement that he was no longer going to stand at attention during the playing of the national anthem before games. Instead, he was going to take a knee as a protest against an anthem that only furthers the oppression of black people in this country.
This made me take notice of him in a positive way.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick said.
As word of Kaepernick’s decision spread, more players (and not just football players and professional athletes, but athletes in multiple sports across all divisions) began to follow suit. Kaepernick explained that the constant and rampant killings of black folks at the hands of the police had spurred his decision because he could no longer stand by silently when he had a platform to elicit change. He was going to take a knee at every game and donate $1 million of his 2016 salary to charity; $100,000 for 10 months to various organizations. People went berserk. Really, they did.
Many football fans (white football fans, I feel compelled to add) told Kaepernick to simply shut up and play ball — an utterance that had been heard going all the way back to the 1960s. White football fans simply want their athletes to play football, not have opinions on issues that directly affect them.
True to his word, Kaepernick took a knee every game throughout the entire 2016–2017 season and began his $100,000 donation in October. As of right now the Colin Kaepernick Foundation has donated $400,000 to various charities. The Foundation, whose mission is to “fight oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism,” has also started a camp called Know Your Rights, which is free for youth to “raise awareness on higher education, self-empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”
At the end of the football season (the beginning of 2017), Kaepernick donated his massive Nike sneaker collection, along with other athletic gear, clothing, and hats to various charities around the San Francisco Bay area. One of the charities, the Dorothy Day House, provides community breakfasts and emergency housing to homeless and low-income members of the community among other acts of service.
The Million Dollar Pledge is donating money to organizations all over the country, though many are in the San Francisco Bay area, where Kaepernick is primarily located. Some of the organizations include:
Silicon Valley De-Bug (San Jose, CA): a media, community organizing, and entrepreneurial collective. Much of the money will be focused toward helping families and loved ones of individuals who were involved in police-related killings or violent incidents.
Causa Justa/Just Cause (Oakland and San Francisco, CA): focused on helping displaced black, Latinx and working-class families families facing eviction in the area.
Mothers Against Police Brutality (Dallas, TX chapter): focused on training “first-response teams” who provide support for families when members of the community are murdered by law enforcement.
Black Veterans for Social Justice (Brooklyn, NY): The donation will go toward helping veterans with housing and job placement.
Center for Reproductive Rights (New York, NY): Funds will be used to further the fight for reproductive rights globally.
I admit, maybe I judged Colin Kaepernick harshly at first. But now I will happily eat my words. It is so rare to see a person in a prominent position actually do what they say they’re going to do, even if it is at the cost of their livelihood. Right now, there is a strong chance that Kaepernick will not be signed by another NFL team after being let go from the 49ers.
There are rumors circulating that blame things like his vegan diet (yeah, okay…), but I think we all know that isn’t the case. Kaepernick will not “shut up and play ball” for the white folks, even it means losing millions.
His legacy may not be football, but it is something far more valuable and important.