By Ken Reed
Mention the name Colin Kaepernick these days and almost everyone has an opinion. It doesn’t matter if they are sports fans or not.
Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49’ers quarterback, is a lightning rod, either hated as un-American, or admired for his courageous fight for social justice. Very few people are neutral on the subject of Colin Kaepernick, or his most famous action, kneeling during the national anthem in protest of the killings of several African Americans by police officers.
John Branch recently wrote a long piece for The New York Times on Kaepernick in an attempt to find out just who this man is and what makes him tick. He captured the divisiveness that the name Kaepernick sparks in this country:
“Attempts to explain who Kaepernick is — and how and why he became either a traitor (“Maybe he should find a country that works better for him,” Donald J. Trump said as a presidential candidate last year) or a hero (“He is Muhammad Ali of this generation,” the longtime civil rights activist Harry Edwards said in an interview last week) — tend to devolve into partisan politics and emotional debates ranging from patriotic rituals to racial inequities,” wrote Branch.
However you stand on Kaepernick’s politics, it’s hard to argue that he’s not contributing to society in a positive manner. He’s pledged to donate $1 million to community causes and charitable endeavors. To date, he’s given out $800,000. He has donated $100,000 every month since October, usually to small, struggling grass roots organizations with a variety of missions. For example, in addition to social justice causes, he’s given money to a clean-energy advocacy group called 350.org and Appetite for Change, which promotes healthy food through urban gardens and cooking seminars.
“What is unique is that he identified grass-roots organizations like my own that are hanging on by a thread trying to do the work,” Muhibb Dyer, a co-founder of the I Will Not Die Young Campaign in Milwaukee, said.
“But a lot of the time we are face-to-face, in the trenches, with some of the most at-risk youth in this country. Having him reach out to us is like a lifeline to continue the work that we do that is oftentimes not highlighted, but very much essential to the life and death of youth every day.”
Kaepernick is also putting on free “Know Your Rights” camps for children “to raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”
“I’m so proud of him,” said Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall, his Nevada teammate and fraternity brother.
“If people look at the real issue, and look at what he’s doing in the community — the money he’s donating, the time he’s donating, the camps he’s putting on — they’d be like: ‘You know what? This dude’s really a stand-up guy.’”
Kaepernick is clearly trying to make a difference, whether you like how he’s going about it or not.
“I want to have a positive influence as much as I can,” Kaepernick told football writer Peter King in 2013.
“I’ve had people write me because of my tattoos. I’ve had people write me because of adoption. I’ve had people write me because they’re biracial. I’ve had people write me because their kids have heart defects — my mom had two boys who died of heart defects, which ultimately brought about my adoption. So, to me, the more people you can touch, the more people you can influence in a positive way or inspire, the better.”
No matter where you stand on Kaepernick, do yourself a favor and read Branch’s article. Agree or disagree, you’ll learn more about what drives the man.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of FansPrint
- League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.