An estimated 1,000 people rallied Wednesday in support of free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who apparently has been “white-balled” by the National Football League after he called for social and racial justice in America by kneeling during the national anthem before games last season.
The buoyant and diverse crowd of men, women and children—some sporting Kaepernick’s No. 7 jersey— gathered outside the league’s headquarters at 345 Park Avenue during the evening rush hour, chanting the athlete’s name, and carrying placards emblazoned with his name.
“What started as a movement of one has turned into thousands backing him up,” said Ryan Brown, 21, a member of Kaepernick’s fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, whose constituents showed up by the dozens from around the country to show support for for the free agent. But Brown only had to travel from his home in Jamaica, Queens.
“He’s standing up for what is right,” Brown said. “It’s important for us to show our support.”
Harry B. Sando Jr., chief operating So African Clothing, was also in attendance. He distributed 110 free black T-Shirts decorated in with a silhouette of a kneeling Kaepernick and inscribed with “He Took a Knee for us; Let’s Stand For Him. Thank You.#FansForKap.”
“It’s what I do,” Sando said while handing out T-Shirts, which disappeared quickly. “Colin Kaepernick is doing something important for the African-American community. And it’s important for me to show my support.”
The New York Justice League—helmed by famed Women’s March chieftain and Time’s 100 Most Influential People honoree Tamika Mallory—hosted the “United We Stand: Rally for Kaepernick.”
“Colin Kaepernick used his Constitutional right to free speech and took a knee on behalf of black lives,” Mallory said in an email statement to NewsOne. “Within his field – where players have been excused for egregious behaviors like violence against women—it is clear team owners are making a statement, and we as consumers, viewers and people of good moral conscience must make a statement as well.”
“Colin Kaepernick used his Constitutional right to free speech and took a knee on behalf of black lives. Within his field – where players have been excused for egregious behaviors like violence against women—it is clear team owners are making a statement, and we as consumers, viewers and people of good moral conscience must make a statement as well.”—Tamika Mallory, New York Justice League
During the 2016-2017 NFL season, the then-quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers was widely praised and criticized for his decision to kneel or sit when the national anthem was being played before games. He touched off a movement, inspiring professional and amateur athletes alike to protest police violence against people of color.
Most recently, the Kaepernick movement gained further velocity and credence when the Cleveland Browns held the NFL’s largest protest since Kaepernick began kneeling in August 2016. A dozen players on Monday took a knee during the national anthem before Cleveland’s home game against the New York Giants on Monday. The move came less than a week after their coach, Hue Jackson, said he didn’t want to see his players protesting during the national anthem.
Kaepernick’s protest also gathered steam last week when the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture announced that his 49ers jersey and social justice message will be highlighted in an upcoming exhibit.
Although rumors persisted that Kaepernick was close to being signed by the Baltimore Ravens, this prospect was eventually scuttled amid divisive commentary from NFL retiree Ray Lewis, the owner, and other critics.
Kaepernick’s supporters’ hopes were given a second look via the Miami Dolphins—then dashed again by generally salty Miami fan backlash to a Fidel Castro t-shirt that Kaepernick wore in the city last season and the team’s hiring of a widely maligned quarterback, Jay Cutler, who was pulled out of retirement and ushered onto the field instead of Kap.
A lot has been made of Kaepernick’s playing abilities, with some calling him great to mediocre. Point of fact, during last season with the 49ers, he threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions in 12 games, according to Sports Illustrated.
Despite this proven productivity, after the first week of pre-season football, Kaepernick remains unemployed by the NFL, whose ownership group appears to be in collusion to keep him out of the sport. This confederacy of NFL owners has only drawn further backlash from mostly African-American fans who remain opposed to supporting the NFL in anyway until it gives Kaepernick a fair chance of employment based on his skill set, not his beliefs. Even New York Police Department officers of color held a televised rally this past weekend in support of Kaepernick, and many fans are blacking out their NFL team jerseys by covering them with black T-shirts in viral social media posts.
“I respect what Colin Kaepernick stands for,” said Kim Mapp, 52, who traveled from Clifton, New Jersey, to attend the rally. “We need more than one person to talk about racial injustice. And Kaepernick is courageous. He put his career on the line. I figure showing up here is the least I could do.”
– Kwame Jackson is an entrepreneur, media personality, professional speaker, and a former contestant on NBC’s hit show “The Apprentice.” You can follow him on Twitter @kwameinc