Santa Clara, CA – This past year was unforgettable for Colin Kaepernick.
Kaepernick took a stand against the brutal killings of innocent black men across America when he began to kneel during the national anthem before games at the start of the season. His actions sparked an outcry from people all over the world.
Many thought what he did was unscrupulous and a slap in the face to the nation’s military. Kaepernick’s stance was solely for the injustice of African-American men and minorities being killed across the U.S.
“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’s Steve Wyche in an exclusive interview in August.
His personal views caused a nationwide uproar and Kaepernick never wavered from his beliefs throughout the season.
“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,” he said.
According to Newsweek, of the 48 fatal force incidents involving all unarmed people last year, 16 were unarmed black men killed by police. In 2015, Newsweek reported a total of 94 unarmed deaths.
Given the many options for Kaepernick to express his disappointment, he chose to do it kneeling prior and during the national anthem before games.
Despite the controversy swirling the quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers had their own insurmountable obstacles last year. Owner Jed York felt he had to do something to prevent a divide among the players, city and law enforcement.
York donated $1 million to two charities, the Silicon Valley Foundation and The San Francisco Foundation.
The Santa Clara Police department had threatened to boycott 49ers games after Kaepernick took a knee. York made the right decision to keep the peace for the team and the Bay Area. But that didn’t stop NFL fans all over the US from speaking their minds.
When the team embarked on New York to face the Buffalo Bills, Bills’ fans took to social media to express their displeasure with Kaepernick kneeling during the anthem. Some of the posts were pretty harsh, especially this one:
The team faced some challenges with a 2-14 season, the firing of first year head coach Chip Kelly and General Manager Trent Baalke at the end of the season.
Yet, the shakeups in the front office didn’t derail the fans from coming out one last time for Sunday’s game. In fact, Kaepernick and his teammates gave it all they had, especially when it came to the fans.
But what surprised most was the team honoring Kaepernick with the most prestigious award to end the season, the Len Eshmont Award.
The Len Eshmont Award – established in 1957 – is voted on by the players and given to the 49er who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team.
“I think the thing, to me, that stood out was it was my teammates that voted on it,” Kaepernick said. “That really means a lot to me. I can’t express how grateful I am to have teammates like I did this year.”
“They stood behind me regardless of any situation that went on, we went out, we fought together and we stayed together to the very end and gave everything we had for each other,” he said.
“This fan base has been amazing,” he explained. “The support I’ve had, people backing me, standing behind me and saying how much they appreciate what I’m doing and what I’m trying to help others do.”
One day after the season ended, Kaepernick handed out clothing, shoes and books to homeless shelters and orphanages around the Bay Area. He also continues to increase awareness on education, health and fitness at his annual Camp Taylor outing this summer.
While the team heads into the off-season unsure about the future of the franchise, players hope to return healthy and able to connect with whomever becomes the new head coach and General Manager.
But for Kaepernick he continues to do what he loves, giving back. He has everything to look forward to and smile about simply because he had an unforgettable year.