Saturday, July 21, 2018
Sports

Jones: Give Kaepernick credit for not hiding from controversy

TAMPA — Two months ago, he was a backup quarterback for a lousy football team. This Sunday against the Bucs, he will be the starting quarterback for that same lousy football team.

But so much more has changed in the world of Colin Kaepernick. Nothing for him will ever be the same. Ever.

He takes a knee during the national anthem — his resolute, yet peaceful demonstration to point out the inequities in this country. It's his way of drawing attention to a country that treats African-Americans differently than whites.

For him and those who support him, it's his Constitutional right, perhaps even his God-given duty. He is exercising the freedom of recognizing the chasm between the races and, in his dreams, starting a conversation that will, ultimately, bridge that gap.

For others, his refusal to stand for the anthem is a sign of blatant disrespect to the flag as well as those who have fought and died just so Kaepernick can earn millions playing football.

He has gone from ordinary athlete who was barely mentioned on ESPN to political activist who leads the evening news and has become a household name. He went from answering questions about blitzes and screen passes to questions about police brutality and racism.

Colin Kaepernick. Patriot or traitor? Should he be admired or vilified? Respected or hated?

"I just got to a point where I just wasn't concerned about myself or what would happen in my future," Kaepernick, 28, said Wednesday in a conference call with Tampa Bay media. "I got to a point where I knew this was the right thing to do, and I knew I had to stand up for people that aren't being treated fairly. I felt strongly enough about that to be willing to take that risk."

This is Kaepernick's world now. He has seen it all. Heard it all. Each day, he is flooded with e-mails and letters. Some call him a hero. Others tell him to leave the country. Some even have threatened his life.

You're either for him or against him. No in-betweens. He's a lightning rod who has divided dinner tables, office water coolers and even military barracks all over this nation.

The biggest criticism he gets? He's un-American.

"I don't understand what's un-American about fighting for liberty and justice for everybody, for the equality this country says it stands for," Kaepernick said after last Sunday's game in Buffalo, where he was booed and greeted with chants of "USA, USA, USA."

Outside the stadium, vendors sold T-shirts with Kaepernick in the crosshairs of a rifle scope with the words, "Wanted: Notorious Disgrace to America."

Over the past several weeks, Kaepernick has received support for his protests, but he also has seen the worst that society has to offer. Kaepernick plows ahead anyway, undeterred by the negative reactions.

"The negative reaction is expected," Kaepernick said. "(It doesn't impact) why I'm doing this. The people who are reacting negatively to this are the ones (who) are part of the issue and part of the perpetuation of oppression, of injustices. And, for me, that doesn't discourage me … I knew that would come along with it."

Give Kaepernick credit. He has never backed away from his message. He has never declined to talk about his issue. He didn't have to partake in Wednesday's conference call.

But he did, knowing full well that the majority of questions would not be about football but instead about race, about protests and about national anthems. He answered each question thoughtfully and respectfully. He answers the same questions over and over, yet never grows impatient. Through it all, he remains very much engaged.

He understands the negative reaction but embraces the support.

"I'm very encouraged by the strength that people have shown in support and by being willing to take a similar stance," Kaepernick said.

But he also knows that this is a fight with no real end in sight.

At the same time, he is a starting quarterback once again, trying to revive a once-promising career that hit the skids over the past year or so. He fights for equality, but he is a football player, too, trying to prove he can still be the quarterback who once took the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

"Most of my day is spent at the (49ers practice) facility, working on football and things of that nature," Kaepernick said.

But causes, especially one as important as race relations in this country, don't take days off. When his long day working on football is done, Kaepernick gets back to making this country better.

"I try to make sure I'm involved in being part of the solution," Kaepernick said.

He has the support of his teammates. His family, too. Next? The rest of the country. It's a long, hard fight.

At the center of it, a professional quarterback named Colin Kaepernick.

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