On Sunday, NFL players took the pre-game protests during national anthems to a new level as dozens of players across the league kneeled, stood arm-in-arm, or just simply refused to participate in the anthem at all, as the Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the locker room.
The increase was spurred on by the recent criticism from President Donald Trump during a rally on Friday in which he said he wished NFL owners would “fire” players who disrespect the anthem and say “Get that son of a b—- off the field right now.”
In addition to the player protests, many NFL owners and executives released statements supporting the players and denouncing Trump’s statement.
What is amazing about this is that it all started with just one person doing something during a meaningless game that nobody noticed.
On Sunday, August 14, 2016, the San Francisco 49ers opened their preseason schedule with a game against the Houston Texans. Colin Kaepernick, who was not dressed for the game, sat on the bench during the national anthem and not a single media outlet reported the move.
A week later, Kaepernick once again sat on the bench during the anthem prior to a game in Denver and again nobody noticed. In addition, Kaepernick did not mention anything to the media.
It was not until two weeks after the initial protest, prior to a Friday evening game in San Francisco against the Green Bay Packers, that a single media member with a smart phone snapped a pic of Kap sitting on the bench in uniform during the anthem.
Colin Kaepernick did not stand during the National Anthem – my picture provides proof. https://t.co/NZ2OIceBxA
— Jennifer Lee Chan (@jenniferleechan) August 27, 2016
While many of the players kneeling during the most recent games on Sunday were doing so, at least in part, as a protest against Trump, Kaepernick had a much more specific reason for his protests.
“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 said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
A week later, prior to the 49ers’ final preseason game and with the entire country watching closely, Kaepernick protested the anthem again, but this one had two key differences: 1) teammate Eric Reid joined Kaepernick; and 2) the pair kneeled instead of sitting.
The latter move was a change that was inspired by a pre-game conversation Kaepernick had with Nate Boyer, a former green beret who was trying to hook on with an NFL team as a long snapper. The feeling was that by taking a knee, instead of sitting, Kaepernick could make a statement while still participating in the anthem, rather than disrespectfully ignoring it.
Boyer explained the move to Bryant Gumble during an episode of HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumble.”
“We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer said (via CBS Sports). “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.”
That game was also when the backlash began.
Colin Kaepernick not hiding. As boos and scattered obscenities rained down, he walked off field and into tunnel with his helmet off.
— Kevin Acee (@sdutKevinAcee) September 2, 2016
Thirteen months later, Kaepernick is out of the NFL, but the protests are now league-wide, the league is at war with the president, and it all started with just one person doing something that nobody noticed.