Colin Kaepernick’s reasons for ending his national anthem protest are not as important as the reasons he started it.
Racism. Discrimination. Police brutality. Economic inequality.
No matter what you thought of Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, a protest that quickly spread across the NFL, he got the country talking. And, hopefully, thinking about the issues that more than ever divide us.
He emboldened other athletes to act on their beliefs, whether it was in the form of protest or engagement with fans and their communities. He donated money — $400,000 as of January — to small, locally-based organizations trying to make a difference where it’s needed most.
He recognized that his status as a marquee player in our most popular sport gave him a unique platform, and he used it to try to make our country better.
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The news that Kaepernick will not continue his protests this coming season, which a person with knowledge of Kaepernick’s plans confirmed to USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because the player has not yet made the move public, was met with some skepticism. Kaepernick will soon be a free agent as he plans to opt out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers, so critics were quick to say he was more concerned with his career than the cause.
That might be true, it might not be. Either way, it’s irrelevant. Kaepernick’s protest always had an expiration date, even if he didn’t choose to share it last year.
The value in protests is their shock value, and that lessens with time. We could already see that last season.
The furor over the anthem protests was so great early on that some blamed it for the drop in NFL ratings. The anthem, rarely shown before regular-season games, became a staple of broadcasts, and there were running counts of which players were protesting and how.
Yet by the end of the season, Kaepernick’s kneeling was rarely noted. We had moved on. What value there had been in kneeling for the anthem as a way of raising consciousness had passed.
Kaepernick will never be able to separate himself from last season. Whether he is kneeling or standing, playing for the 49ers or someone else, people will see him and automatically think of his protests. But it is his message, not his method of delivering it, that mattered, and that hasn’t changed.