San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick created a firestorm of controversy on Friday by refusing to stand and acknowledge the National Anthem prior to his team’s preseason football game.
Kaepernick told the NFL that he chose not to acknowledge the Anthem to protest police violence and the discrimination of African-Americans throughout the country.
"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 told NFL Media. "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."
Photos taken during the anthem show Kaepernick sitting on the 49ers bench. In the photo below, Kaepernick can be seen in the lower portion of the frame in the center, near the Gatorade coolers.
This team formation for the National Anthem is not Jeff Fisher approved. #HardKnocks pic.twitter.com/SqHHdw0aoj
— Jennifer Chan (@jenniferleechan) August 27, 2016
Kaepernick likely won't face punishment for his protest, as the NFL has no rule requiring players to stand during the Anthem.
.@NFL comment on Kaepernick's anthem stance: "Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem."
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) August 27, 2016
The quarterback has also not stood for National Anthem in the 49ers other two preseason games.
The 49ers issued the following statement.
"The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."
Kaepernick isn’t the first athlete to protest the playing of the National Anthem before the game. Former basketball player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended by the NBA in 1996 for refusing to acknowledge the anthem because of his religious beliefs. Following his suspension, Abdul-Rauf agreed to stand for the anthem on the condition that he look downward and close his eyes.
Kaepernick also joins basketball players LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul and Dwyane Wade in speaking out against gun violence. The four NBA stars spoke on the subject during the ESPYs earlier this year.
Alex Hider is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @alexhider.