There is a dominating sense that Colin Kaepernick will never play a down of professional football again.
This is not solely the cheery gloat of the quarterback’s greatest detractors ― it is the begrudged admission of some of his adamant defenders and Kaepernick himself.
But if this is truth ― if there is no room for Kaepernick in the National Football League ― there best be room for the activism he wrought, according to supporters of the former 49er. On Wednesday evening, they demanded as much in no uncertain terms.
A crowd swelled outside NFL headquarters, at the intersection of 51st Street and Park Avenue, and spilled onto the sidewalk, churning with agitation. The “United We Stand Rally for Colin Kaepernick” was, effectively, a warning ― a declaration that the quarterback’s dissenters, be they within the league or without, would not have final say on the validity of his message.
It had been almost a year to the day since Kaepernick divulged his rationale for silent protest at the outset of the 2016 season: he believed showing blind deference to the national anthem as people of color suffer under the weight of disproportional policing was hypocritical. Since providing this rationale, Kaepernick endured a whirlwind season. He battled back from injury, earned a starting job, headed a lowly 49ers squad, and finished the season a middle-of-the-pack play-caller boasting the tangible adoration of his teammates.
Under ordinary conditions, a free agent with his player profile would have found a new team with relative ease. Yet, weeks before the start of the season, Kaepernick is without a single offer. Demonstrators and coordinators alike attribute this to ostracism.
“It is an egregious example of the injustices in today’s world when an expressed advocacy by Colin Kaepernick seems to have resulted in him not being signed by a team,” said Symone D. Sanders, former press secretary for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and rally co-organizer. “We believe that the NFL is complicit in this ostracization of Colin Kaepernick — that they have, essentially, sat silently, and we are calling on the NFL to act.”
Sanders said the rally’s aims were twofold, intending both to highlight the peculiarity and injustice in Kaepernick’s unemployment and to establish a means by which future players can undertake advocacy without fear of backlash.
The concerns expressed by Sanders and her team of notable co-organizers have not yet been addressed.
“We sent a letter to the NFL requesting policy changes,” Sanders said. “The NFL declined to meet with us today and have yet to set up a follow-up meeting; they say they’re working on it.”
The rally featured a gamut of clergymen, activists, authors, and artists holding court and animating a crowd that ballooned to hundreds. Event co-organizer and Women’s March co-chair Tamika Mallory offered a particularly impassioned plea that drew thunderous applause.
“If the NFL can’t stand up for your children,” she said, “turn the damn game off.”
It was this theme, one of ultimatum and righteous detachment from a sport held dear, that carried the evening. Amid the crowd was a smattering of Kaepernick jerseys, a rather relatable contradiction: at once, supporting an allegedly discriminatory league and the very player disrupting it.
But undeniably, of concern to the league and its stakeholders are sentiments like those of Kathleen Lowy, who suggested she “won’t watch the NFL if they continue to boycott [Kaepernick]. And I won’t buy any products that sponsor the NFL.”
Two feet away, a woman by the name of Goldie — with an “America was NEVER great” sign in hand — suggested Kaepernick’s activism should promote further action from players and fans alike.
“The bottom line is, I wanna be on the right side of history,” Goldie said. She would later continue, “It shouldn’t even be a thing where they’re just taking a knee; that’s not enough.”
That proclamation — that the convergence of activism and sport need seek new, more impactful action — would later be realized, with rally organizers calling for the divestment of Verizon, a prime NFL sponsor, from the league. (Verizon owns Oath, HuffPost’s parent company.)
It is wholly possible Colin Kaepernick will never see an NFL field again. The same, however, may be said of those who support the quarterback from their couches every Sunday, and that concern about potential financial loss in the league is, undoubtedly, now the primary focus of those who believe Kaepernick’s cause to be a righteous one.