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Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. That single decision changed his career and life forever. For years, many, including the NFL, viewed Colin Kaepernick’s move as disrespectful to the flag and the military despite his insistence from the beginning that’s not what he intended. 

However, George Floyd’s death at the hands of police in late May was a tipping point for the nation. For the first time, many who opposed Kaepernick, including the NFL, viewed the former quarterback differently as their eyes were opened to the systemic racism he had spotlighted years earlier. A movement was born and has continued to gain momentum in the subsequent months. Meanwhile, Kaepernick has continued to be outspoken against police brutality. And now, he’s offered his most dramatic solution to the problem. 

Colin Kaepernick first protests police brutality

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first protested police brutality in August 2016 during a preseason game. After that contest, Kaepernick explained why he did it.

“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.”

Kaepernick’s protest and comments came a month after police shot and killed Alton Sterling in Louisiana. When asked about his protest and if he anticipated any consequences for his actions, the quarterback put it all in perspective. 

“If they take football away, my endorsements from me. I know that I stood up for what is right.”

The NFL changed its position in 2020

The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t hesitate to show its displeasure for Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest back in 2016. Goodell admitted he didn’t “necessarily agree with what he is doing.” The NFL owners agreed, and their actions revealed as much. After the 2016 season, not a single team brought Kaepernick in for a tryout, much less signing him to a deal. 

While Kaepernick dropped off the NFL’s radar, he didn’t go away. In fact, his name was often invoked each time another Black person fell victim to police brutality. When George Floyd died in Minnesota in late May and demonstrations and protests erupted in cities across America, Kaepernick’s message suddenly connected with a much broader audience. One of those affected was Goodell.

In August, Goodell apologized directly to Kaepernick during an episode of Emmanuel Acho’s YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.

“The first thing I’d say is I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” Goodell admitted. “We had invited him in several times to have the conversation, to have the dialogue. I wish we would have had the benefit of that. We never did. You know, we would have benefitted from that. Absolutely.”

Colin Kaepernick calls police ‘white supremacist institution’

In addition to George Floyd, Breonna Taylor’s name is oft-mentioned following her death in March at the hands of Louisville, Kentucky police during a botched raid on her apartment. Many in the Louisville community and around the nation have protested and expressed outrage Taylor’s killers have never been charged with a crime. 

Earlier this month, Louisville officials announced the city agreed to pay Taylor’s family $12 million in a wrongful-death lawsuit. Still, no officer was being held accountable for the deadly actions. 

On Wednesday, a grand jury indicted a former Louisville police officer for reckless endangerment during the raid. No other charges were announced against the other two officers who fired shots, and no one was charged for Taylor’s death. That action, or lack thereof, elicited a vehement response from Kaepernick on Twitter. 

“The white supremacist institution of policing that stole Breonna Taylor’s life from us must be abolished for the safety and well being of our people. #BreonnaTaylor #SayHerName #AbolishThePolice.”

While Colin Kaepernick’s words might sound harsh and over the top to some, his kneeling protest was viewed the exact same way by a lot of people just four years ago. What happens in the days, weeks, and months ahead, is still to be determined. Whatever it is, there’s a good chance Kaepernick will have a significant influence on the final outcome. 

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