SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Colin Kaepernick stood in the middle of a victorious San Francisco 49ers locker room here Monday and took a moment to blast one of his foremost critics, ESPN broadcaster Trent Dilfer.
Over the weekend Dilfer slammed Kaepernick for his ongoing protest of taking a knee during the pregame national anthem. The 49ers’ second-string quarterback says he is doing it to raise awareness and action to the issue of police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men.
It has produced, to say the least, a tsunami of attention, backlash, controversy, condemnation, celebration and discussion that has extended across the country, produced further players at all levels joining in and even found comment from President Obama.
“The big thing that hit me through all this was this is a backup quarterback whose job is to be quiet, and sit in the shadows and get the starter ready to play Week 1,” Dilfer said on Sunday. “Yet he chose a time where all of a sudden he became the center of attention. And it has disrupted that organization. It has caused friction. And it’s torn at the fabric of the team.”
When asked for a response, Kaepernick didn’t hold back.
“I think that’s one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve heard,” Kaepernick said. “The fact that you say, ‘You are a backup QB, stay in your place?’ That’s an issue. To me, you are telling me that my position as a backup QB and being quiet is more important than people’s lives. I would ask him to really have a conversation with the families of people that have been murdered [by police] and see if he still feels that way. Because I bet that he doesn’t. Just because he hasn’t experienced that type of oppression.
“That is something that I hope he goes home and really thinks about what he said and how it impacts not just me but how it impacts people whose lives are affected by these issues on a daily basis.”
Kaepernick began the protests in the preseason, first staying seated during the anthem and then later taking a knee. He says he isn’t protesting the military but fighting for justice. It has struck a nerve. He’s been torn apart by some, propped up by others. When he took the field in the final minutes of a 28-0 victory over the Los Angeles Rams, he was both cheered and booed, as some fans waved American flags, which in this case could mean anything.
A former Super Bowl starter whose play has faded in recent years, Kaepernick has become a touchstone for an impassioned issue, stepping out of the shadows. He was previously known as somewhat of a publicity shy player.
His manner of protest swept across football, with numerous NFL players joining in this week. Others stepped up and helped hold giant American flags. On Monday, teammate Eric Reid knelt next to Kaepernick while four players, two on each team, held fists aloft.
“It has been amazing,” Kaepernick said.
Dilfer, for one, saw it differently. He isn’t alone. Dilfer is known to be a friend of 49ers general manager Trent Baalke. As such, many saw the comments as coming from the front office. The 49ers ownership, specifically CEO Jed York, however has praised Kaepernick and matched the player’s $1 million donation to underserved communities.
“I had a great conversation with Jed,” Kaepernick said. “He went out of his way and reached out to me and I got to talk to him and talk these things through. He wanted to know how can I help. I see these things as well. To have that support from the owner, that has that position and is running an organization like this, it is huge. It says a lot about what people mean to him.”
Kaepernick, 27, was direct and poised in the locker room Monday. The native of Turlock, Calif., in the state’s central valley has become more comfortable speaking about the issue over the course of the protest. His answers are more refined. He said his activism was a result of “self-education” and the slew of high-profile incidents involving police and unarmed black men. He felt the need to use the platform playing in the NFL provides.
“I think it has become so blatantly obvious that athletes and people in general have to react,” Kaepernick said. “With social media there are so many instances where it is immediately to you. You see it day after day. For me … I couldn’t see another #sandrabland #tamirrice #walterscott #ericgarner – the list goes on and on and on. At what point do we do something about it? At what point do we take a stand and as a people say this isn’t right?
“You have a badge yes, but you are supposed to be protecting us, not murdering us,” Kaepernick said. “That is what the issue is and we need to change that.”
One of the challenges Kaepernick has faced is trying to steer the discussion away from the manner of his protest – which, because it involves the flag, can stir passion – and to what and why he is protesting. For some, no manner or explanation would ever be given merit. Others, however, are missing his point through the white noise of debate. Many have vilified him. His jersey has also shot to the top of the NFL sales chart.
“Nothing has ever been done without criticism,” Kaepernick said. “Every great change … whether it is revolution or evolution of things, there is always criticism. There is always that ‘I don’t like change’ kind of mentality, but you have to be able to take that and say, ‘You know what? In the long run they will see what is going on, they will see what is right, and they will understand.’
“… I don’t want to kneel forever,” he said. “I want these things to change. I do know it will be a process and it is not something that will change over night, but I think there are some major changes that we can make that are very reasonable.”
As for Dilfer and the others who stand against him, either because they disagree with Kaepernick’s opinion, his actions or his spot on the depth chart, don’t expect the quarterback to quit. The last few weeks have invigorated him, empowered him. This, he said, is just the start.
“I feel change is coming,” Kaepernick said. “There are enough people talking about it. There are enough people who see these injustices are happening and want to be a part of the change and want to help change and help ultimately give these people a better life and better chance to thrive. That is huge. The character that these players are showing and the lengths they are going to say I don’t agree with this and I am going to stand for this regardless of the consequences is amazing.
“This movement wasn’t for me,” he continued. “I didn’t do these things for me. As I have researched things and as I have seen things more and more, it is not right. There is an instance yesterday where Terrence Sterling [in Washington D.C.] was murdered, an unarmed black man once again. It has become habitual. It is an issue that needs to be addressed because it continues to happen and every time it is administrative leave. That is not right. That is the issue that needs to be addressed and policies need to be addressed to change that.”
There in the center of the locker room, surrounded by the thrill of victory from a team that didn’t look even a little bit torn apart, Colin Kaepernick kept talking and talking.
The victory was appreciated. The chance to continue speaking his mind, backup or starter, even more so.
More on the NFL: