Colin Kaepernick (via The New Yorker)
That Kaepernick seemed an unlikely activist gave last season’s protest a particular gravity. He was a quirky player known for his daring, occasionally reckless approach to playing quarterback. But up until that point, he was more likely to draw attention for his touchdown celebrations (a bicep kiss), or for wearing an opposing team’s cap (it matched his outfit), than for his politics. At first, nobody noticed that he was kneeling in protest at all, given the teeming chaos of N.F.L. sidelines. But once pressed, he spoke with the clear-eyed conviction of someone who had discovered a new purpose. He donated significant chunks of his salary to progressive causes, and he began working with the activist Shaun King and the sociologist Harry Edwards on building institutions that might outlast his playing career. Last fall, a local artist painted a mural of Kaepernick in Oakland—hostile territory for the 49ers. “We got your back,” it read. Teammates, other N.F.L. players, and athletes in other sports, from the standout American soccer player Megan Rapinoe to countless high-school students, joined him in kneeling.
Kaepernick recently announced that he was encouraged by the conversations that his protest had inspired. Perhaps eager to show prospective employers that he would no longer be a distraction, he pledged that he would be standing again. Whether a player who seems admired by his peers but hated by upper management ever performs again in the N.F.L. remains to be seen, especially given the President’s perpetual eagerness to show off his Twitter muscles.
Kaepernick was hardly the first, and he surely won’t be the last, to violate many fans’ wish that athletes “stick to sports.” But his situation, from his desire to speak his mind to the air of Presidentially approved collusion that surrounds his free agency, is a reminder of how the positions of athletes and celebrities have changed in the social-media era.