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Colin Kaepernick ends his protest on disingenuous note

03.03.17 at 1:17 pm ET
Colin Kaepernick says he plans to end his national anthem protest in 2017. (Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports)

Colin Kaepernick says he plans to end his national anthem protest in 2017. (Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports)

Colin Kaepernick said last year he would keep kneeling during the national anthem until significant progress was made toward social justice reform. But now, after opting out of his contract with the 49ers, he plans to stop his protest. This makes his apparent quest for change seem disingenuous.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Thursday the former San Francisco quarterback will stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner” in 2017. Kaepernick said he arrived at his decision because he doesn’t want his demonstration to distract from the positive impact he’s made on the issue of racial inequality. Apparently, he believes his work is done.

Kaepernick’s protest, which started in the preseason and continued through the entire regular season, was more than a symbolic gesture. His foundation gave $1 million to community organizations, with the 49ers matching his donations. He also organized and spoke at a camp for underprivileged kids in the Bay Area, setting up workshops that covered topics ranging from nutrition health to advice on how to interact with police officers. Kaepernick says he plans to continue those charitable endeavors, but without the accompanying public symbol.

While LeBron James and other NBA stars routinely speak out on social issues, Kaepernick’s protest sparked a national conversation. In addition to other NFL players, kids on high school and youth football teams across the country followed his lead. The Beaumont Bills, a Texas-based club comprised of 11- and 12-year olds, cancelled their season after some players decided to kneel to draw attention towards injustice. But now, without the safety net of a $14.3 million salary, Kaepernick is abandoning them.

With President Donald Trump in office, voices like Kaepernick’s are needed more than ever. Up to 8 million undocumented immigrants are now at risk of being deported under the administration’s new guidelines, including those who use food stamps and other social assistance programs. Trump is also promising to unveil a new travel ban that applies to several predominately Muslim countries, after the last one was overturned by a federal court.

The first hit to Kaepernick’s credibility as a social activist came shortly after Trump was elected to office, when he told reporters he sat out perhaps the most pivotal election in recent history. He made it clear last year he wasn’t a fan of Trump or Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, calling them “proven liars” and racists. It was a lazy take that did little to advance the national conversation.

“I’ve been very disconnected from the systematic oppression as a whole,” Kaepernick explained when asked why he didn’t vote. “So, for me, it’s another face that’s going to be the face of that system of oppression. And to me, it didn’t really matter who went in there. The system still remains intact that oppresses people of color.”

While that’s true, the Trump administration poses an unique threat to civil rights. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose federal judgeship appointment in the 1980’s was opposed by Coretta Scott King due to his history of clamping down on voting access, said this week the Justice Department will pull back on police department civil rights suits. The Justice Department under President Barack Obama opened 25 probes into police departments, including Ferguson, Missouri, which was found to have targeted the African-American community in an effort to increase city revenue.

There were also several ballot measures in California that spoke to directly to the issue of criminal justice reform, which Kaepernick says he’s passionate about. Prop 63 tightened the state’s gun laws, and Prop 64 legalized legalized marijuana. That should be a topic of great importance to Kaepernick, considering the ACLU found black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people. He spoke a lot about police practices, but did little to change them.

Kaepernick, of course, isn’t obligated to continue kneeling for the rest of his career. But given the nation’s current climate, this seems like a curious time to step aside. That is, unless Kaepernick is worried about hurting his value on the free agent market. With promises to curtail his protesting, he may become more attractive to teams that are leery of taking on a marginal quarterback with such a polarizing personality.

Muhammad Ali and other social justice crusaders weren’t afraid to suffer financially if it meant standing up for what they believe. It appears as if Kaepernick isn’t willing to make that kind of sacrifice.

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