It was quite the scene to say the least.
Only this time, it was different.
Rather than sit on the bench, Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem amongst his teammates at Thursday night’s preseason game against the San Diego Chargers.
He was also joined by teammate Eric Reid.
“It was amazing,” Kaepernick said of Reid’s involvement. “Eric and I had many conversations and he approached me and said, ‘I support what you’re doing.’ He said, ‘I support what your message is. Let’s think about how we can do this together.’”
Former Green Beret and University of Texas longsnapper Nate Boyer wrote a letter to Kaepernick earlier in the week to share his feelings on Kaepernick's mission. Boyer traveled to San Diego to meet with both players on Thursday. Kaepernick invited Boyer to be his guest and stand by his side during the anthem on San Francisco’s sideline.
The 49ers quarterback wanted to be clear. Their choice to kneel during the national anthem was to help continue the conversation about improving social issues in America and not about disrespecting the country's armed forces. Kaepernick later applauded members of the military who were celebrated during San Diego’s military appreciation night. He also stood during a performance of “God Bless America.”
“I’m not anti-American,” Kaepernick said. “I love America. I love people. That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody else is coming from. Those conversations are important to have because the better we understand each other, the better we know each other, the better we can deal and communicate with each other which ultimately puts everyone in a better position.”
Both players further advanced the important dialogue on Thursday night.
“We talked about it at length and we wanted to make sure that the message we’re trying to send isn’t lost with the action that is coming along with it,” Kaepernick said.
Reid didn’t commit to kneeling for future anthems. But he didn’t want his teammate to be alone in making this type of statement with the entire sports world watching.
“I just wanted to show my support for him and the cause that he is trying to bring awareness to,” Reid said. “I had an in depth conversation with him before the game, and he saw a lot of backlash about him sitting down and he wanted to make it clear that his message wasn’t to disrespect the military or to disrespect the national anthem in any way.
“He decided to change his position by taking a knee to be more respectful to the military and national anthem but still wanted to bring awareness to the issues that he believes are in this country, and I whole-heartedly agree that there are issues in this country.
“I think it is very brave of him to continue to stand up for what he believes in while also changing his physical position to be respectful to the military.”
Kaepernick made it clear that he’s not against the military.
“I realize that men and women of the military go out and sacrifice their lives and put themselves in harm’s way for my freedom of speech and my freedom in this country and my freedom to take a knee,” he said. “I have the utmost respect for them."
In addition to kneeling during pregame festivities, Kaepernick announced that he’s taking his peaceful protests one step further. He’s going to donate the first million dollars he makes this season to select organizations that support social equality.
Several players on the 49ers shared how Kaepernick’s stance has brought the team closer together. It created meaningful dialogue between teammates outside the normal conversations in the hallways and locker room.
“I don’t think it’s a distraction at all,” Kaepernick said. “Like we talked about earlier, it’s really brought our team closer. We’ve gotten closer to each other on a personal level. We understand each other better so we go out on the field and fight for each other on the field because we know we are fighting for the same thing.
“I think we showed tonight that our team is willing to fight for each other. We’re willing to go out and play hard, and it hasn’t distracted us.”
The 49ers won the game, 31-21.
But nobody was really discussing the final score.