The 2016 NFL season started with some heightened tensions on the field–or at it’s edge. The games themselves were overshadowed by what was a simple political protest. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, took a knee during the National Anthem. And now his teammates have given him a reward.
The San Francisco 49ers announced their team awards Friday. Kaepernick was awarded the Len Eshmont Award. This is consdered the team’s “most prestigious honor” and is given to the “49er who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team.
“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.com.
At first, he sat during the anthem. Later, he changed the protest slightly and joined his teammates who stood, but still showed his frustrations by taking a knee.
The award has been met with intense scrutiny. Kaepernick is, by all accounts, not having a stellar season. His performance on the field had been so bad that there were numerous rumors circulating that suggested he would be cut from the team.
Some critics of Kaepernick’s protest have suggested that his Anthem antics are just an attempt to solidify his role with the team. If he were to be cut now, his dismissal would be seen by many as another example of the oppression his protest is meant to highlight.
Either way, Kaepernick has both angered and motivated NFL fans. His protests have inspired others to kneel. College athletes, high school football players–even the ranks of youth football have modeled their behaviors to mimic that of Kaepernick.
Those who oppose his kneeling suggest Kaepernick is an example of just how far this country has come from its indisputably troubled past. Kaepernick, an overpaid and under-performing athlete, can afford his political position. He gets paid millions, even when he plays poorly. And his teammates celebrate his “courageous play.”