The phenomenon began during the 2016 NFL preseason when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling before games to raise awareness of social injustice, including police brutality against black Americans. But the protests really took off over the next year, with players from across the league joining Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media after taking a knee. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
In early March, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers, making him a free agent. Kaepernick remains unsigned, and some have accused the NFL of blacklisting him, according to ESPN.
In late September, Trump slammed the NFL for what he called the league’s tolerance of players showing disrespect to the United States.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of the NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a b—- off the field right now?'” the president said amid thunderous applause and cheers from a crowd in Huntsville, Alabama.
“You know, some owner … is going to say, ‘That guy who disrespects our flag, he’s fired,'” he said.
San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid, one of the first players to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the national anthem, defended the ongoing silent protests in an Oct. 10 interview on ABC’s “The View.”
“We have a constitutional right to protest. And that’s all we’re doing — exercising it,” Reid said. “It’s a peaceful protest…. We’re simply trying to raise awareness around the issues that our country faces.”
Reid said he was first inspired to join his teammate’s protest after the death of Alton Sterling, a black man who was shot several times by police while being held on the ground in Reid’s hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“At that point, I knew I needed to do something,” he said. “I need[ed] to use my platform to speak out for people who didn’t have a voice.”