Colin Kaepernick: Hero or traitor?

American footballer divides US after refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest at racial injustice

Colin Kaepernick
Colin KaepernickFor an American Football player, in 2017 Colin Kaepernick hasn’t played very much American Football. In fact he’s not played a single minute. Despite this (or maybe because of it) his effect on the US has been immense with the #Takeaknee
(Image credit: Thearon W Henderson/Getty Images)

A silent protest by a minor American football player against racial injustice and police brutality is dividing opinion in the US.

What happened?

The controversy began in pre-season warm-up games when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the US national anthem, saying he could not "show pride in the flag of a country that oppresses people of colour".

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When the season started last week, Kaepernick, who is black but was raised by a white family, once again refused to stand for The Star-Spangled Banner and instead went down on one knee. He was joined by team-mate Eric Redi while two other 49ers and two members of the opposing LA Rams stood with their gloved fists raised in Black Power salutes. A handful of players from four other teams repeated the protest over the week.

The protest has also put the national anthem back in the spotlight, reigniting suggestions that its lyrics are racist. Lines from the little-known third stanza refer to former slaves who had joined the British to fight for their freedom in the war of 1812: "No refuge could save the hireling and slave, from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave."

Hero or traitor?

While many have spoken out in support of Kaepernick, there has been a vicious backlash against him, with a Baptist pastor greeted by cheers at a high-school game in Alabama when he suggested those against The Star-Spangled Banner should be shot.

"If you don't want to stand for the national anthem, you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you," he said.

What has the impact been?

While American football has traditionally been a white sport, more than 68 per cent of the players are now black and the protests "spell trouble for America's most valuable sport", which has 32 teams valued at $63bn (£48bn), says the Daily Telegraph.

For decades, the fear of losing lucrative sponsorship deals - and a place in the team - has led players to keep a lid on dressing room activism. However, the emergence of groups such as Black Lives Matter, in response to a perceived increase in police brutality, has led some sport stars to stand up.

"We're entering an era where athletes are increasingly going to be activists," says Robert Boland, sport analyst, Ohio University. "They have absolutely huge platforms which they are now using through social media."

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