This Day in History

Aug. 26, 2016: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick Kneels in Protest

Time Periods: 21st Century, 2001-
Themes: Civil Rights Movements, Racism & Racial Identity, Sports

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s non-violent protest — not standing for the National Anthem before a game — garnered public attention for the first time on August 26, 2016 when he was photographed sitting during the anthem before a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.

Colin Kaepernick (center) kneels during the National Anthem. Source: Al Jazeera

It was not the first time he sat or kneeled during the ceremony, but it was the first time he spoke up about it, and news of his political protest traveled.

Kaepernick spoke with NFL media after the game and explained,

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. . . . 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.

Stories of citizen-athletes fighting for racial justice.

The right-wing pundits, Republican politicians, and conservative internet enclaves reacted to the protest with deep disdain and racist disregard for Black lives lost to police violence. The NFL briefly banned kneeling or sitting during the anthem. By 2017, Kaepernick was unable to find a team willing to draft him and he filed a grievance with the NFL, accusing the league of blackballing him. The grievance was settled in 2019, and the agreement and findings remain confidential.

Kaepernick’s protest inspired athletes in the NFL and in other sports leagues to sit or kneel during the National Anthem. He took advantage of his new mainstream visibility beyond sports to raise money for exploited communities and to draw attention to police killings of African Americans.

Source: Backbone Campaign via Flickr

Since 2016, Kaepernick’s work in charity and activism has been recognized by leading education, human rights, and media organizations. He is a recipient of the Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, the American Civil Liberties Union Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award, the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award, the Harvard University W. E. B. Du Bois Medal, and the Ripple of Hope Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights.

As of 2023, Kaepernick remained a free agent, unsigned by any NFL team.