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The national perception of Colin Kaepernick and his kneeling protest has dramatically shifted in the last four years. He was initially viewed by many, including the very league in which he played, as someone who was being disrespectful to the flag and the military. Many have acknowledged they were wrong in their original assessment including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. What most forget is Kaepernick’s initial protest wasn’t kneeling, it was his socks.

Colin Kaepernick kneels in protest

On August 26, 2016, the public first noticed Colin Kaepernick and his protest on racial injustice and, more specifically, police brutality when he sat on the bench during the national anthem of a San Francisco 49ers preseason game. After that initial move, Kaepernick read an op-ed piece in the Army Times that former Green Beret and NFL player Nate Boyer addressed to him.

Kaepernick and Boyer met the day of the 49ers next preseason matchup against the San Diego Chargers. During their more than hour-long conversation, both men discussed a variety of issues, including Kaepernick’s thoughts on police brutality and why he was protesting. Boyer talked about how sitting on the bench away from his teammates could be viewed as divisive and hurtful. 

The two men came up with a compromise. Kaepernick would take a knee. It would allow him to still protest, but it would be unifying because he would still be part of his team. And it would be respectful.

“Taking a knee, honestly, is a sign of respect,” Boyer told Colin Cowherd in an interview. “People take a knee to pray. We would take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave. I saw that image, while still getting his point across, much more respectful.”

Kaepernick’s protests now viewed in different light

Since the death of George Floyd in Minnesota at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, Kaepernick’s protests back in 2016 are viewed in a completely different light. Instead of being seen as disrespectful to the flag and military as many claimed then and some still do now (see Drew Brees), Kaepernick’s kneeling is now recognized for what he originally intended—a spotlight on systemic racism and police brutality. 

While Kaepernick was blackballed by the NFL and its owners the following season and hasn’t played a down since, the NFL has acknowledged it was wrong. Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted as much in an apology earlier in June. 

“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People. We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.”

Colin Kaepernick first protested by his choice of socks

While the landscape has changed dramatically with protesters and demonstrators around the nation making their voices heard and often invoking Kaepernick’s name as the original protester, many have forgotten there was actually another Kaepernick protest on police brutality before kneeling.

For several weeks in training camp prior to the preseason game, the 49ers quarterback donned a pair of black socks that featured a cartoon pig dressed up as a police officer. The socks were only discovered after someone went back and reviewed previous video and photos to see if Kaepernick had hinted at his position. Sure enough, he had.

When questioned about the socks, Kaepernick provided his reason in an Instagram post.

“I wore these socks, in the past, because the rogue cops that are allowed to hold positions in police departments, not only put the community in danger, but also put the cops that have the right intentions in danger by creating an environment of tension and mistrust. I have two uncles and friends who are police officers and work to protect and serve ALL people. So before these socks, which were worn before I took my public stance, are used to distract from the real issues, I wanted to address this immediately.”

Kaepernick is viewed today as a leader in a movement. In the future, history books will show he was courageous and a hero for standing up against systemic racism and police brutality. And it all started with a pair of socks. 


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