San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is facing backlash from some disappointed and even angry fans and fellow players after he refused to stand during the playing of the national anthem before a Friday night game in protest of the treatment of minorities in the U.S.
Kaepernick told NFL Media that his sitting down during the song was a response to police violence against black people, specifically. Kaepernick has done this in the past during preseason games, according to the Associated Press.
“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.”
Both the NFL and the 49ers released statements recognizing the importance of the national anthem, but asserting that all players have the right to sit if they so choose.
“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,” the statement from the 49ers read. “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.”
“Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem,” read the NFL statement, obtained by NFL Media.
Many of Kaepernick’s teammates spoke out during a media session on Saturday, saying that they disagreed with the quarterback’s actions but that they still stand by him. Kaepernick reportedly had a meeting with the team, which several players told reporters helped them understand why he chose not to stand.
“In seeing his point of view, it does help,” center Daniel Kilgore told reporters, according to NBC Sports. “It clears the air. It was a good meeting. It was a productive meeting. We’re all under the same understanding that he has that right. And for me, personally, I see where Colin was coming from. I don’t agree with him not standing up for the national anthem, but I do respect and acknowledge the fact that he has the right to decide what he wants to do.”
NFL columnist Mike Freeman reported that “every player” on the 49ers backs Kaepernick, but none of the coaches or executives had voiced their support.
Many fans of the team were also unsupportive, taking to social media to air their grievances and some even going as far as burning jerseys with Kaepernick’s name on them.
Some took what appeared to be enthusiastic participation in the national anthem from the staff and players of the New York Giants on Saturday to be a response to Kaepernick as well:
New York Giants guard Justin Pugh and Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert also took to social media to air their responses.
I will be STANDING during the National Anthem tonight. Thank you to ALL (Gender,Race,Religion)that put your lives on the line for that flag
— Justin Pugh (@JustinPugh) August 27, 2016
Despite the backlash, Kaepernick, whose Twitter feed is filled with articles and information on social justice issues, told reporters that he planned to continue sitting during the national anthem no matter what.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick said, according to a transcript by USA Today. “To me this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”