Who Is Colin Kaepernick?
Colin Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1987. An athletic and mobile quarterback, Kaepernick attended the University of Nevada, Reno, where he set several school and college records. The San Francisco 49ers drafted Kaepernick in 2011, and he led the club to Super Bowl XLVII less than two years later. In 2016, Kaepernick drew attention for refusing to stand for the national anthem, a form of protest that was adopted by other players and became a hot-button political topic. He filed a grievance against NFL owners the following year for colluding to keep him out of the league, before agreeing to a confidential settlement in February 2019.
Colin Rand Kaepernick was born on November 3, 1987, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was just a few weeks old when he was adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, who already had two children of their own but had lost two other babies not long after birth because of heart defects.
Kaepernick's biological mother, Heidi Russo, was 19 when he was born. Faced with the prospect of raising her son on her own (Kaepernick's biological father fled as soon as he discovered Russo was pregnant), she had spent much of her pregnancy debating whether she should put her baby up for adoption. After meeting the Kaepernicks, who had been introduced to her through a common friend, she decided to give her young child up.
As white parents of a bi-racial child, the Kaepernicks often received stares or curious comments. At school, classmates told Colin that it was impossible for the Kaepernicks to be his parents.
"We've always been really open about the adoption, and we were always very open about the skin colors," Teresa Kaepernick told The New York Times in 2010. "We pointed it out as a positive, and he saw his difference and was comfortable with it."
Athletic at a young age, Kaepernick, who moved with his family to California when he was 4 years old, began playing youth football at age 8. His strong arm quickly elevated him to the quarterback position. That same arm also made him an elite high school pitcher, one capable of throwing a fastball at 94 miles per hour.
But football was Kaepernick's first love. In the fourth grade, he even penned a letter predicting that he would be the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. "I hope I go to a good college in football then go to the pros and play on the Niners or the Packers, even if they aren't good in seven years," he wrote.
At John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, California, Kaepernick was a first-team All-District, All-Conference and All-Academic selection. But Kaepernick, whose big arm was hampered by what scouts viewed as a poor throwing motion, was largely passed over by the major college football programs. There were also concerns that the razor thin athlete—he matched his 6'4" frame with just 170 pounds—would get hurt.
It was only after a tryout at a camp put on by the University of Nevada, Reno, that Kaepernick showed enough to warrant a scholarship, and he subsequently enrolled at the school in the fall of 2007. Recruited to play safety, Kaepernick stepped in to play QB in the fifth game of his freshman year, when the team's starter went out with an injury against Fresno State. Throwing for 384 yards and four touchdowns, Kaepernick never relinquished the starting role and finished the year with 19 touchdowns.
Fast and strong, Kaepernick put up gaudy numbers during his four years playing for the Wolf Pack. He set several school records and became the first quarterback in the history of Division I FBS to pass for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards.
While concerns about Kaepernick's throwing accuracy still hovered around him, the San Francisco 49ers selected the quarterback in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Rising Star in San Francisco
After serving as a backup throughout his rookie season to the team's longtime starter, Alex Smith, Kaepernick took over as the team's No. 1 quarterback in 2012, after Smith was forced to sit out late in the year as a result of a concussion.
As he had done in college, Kaepernick quickly adapted to the new competition, dazzling 49er fans and coaches with his unmatched athleticism. After the second-year QB led the club to several big wins, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh named the young player his permanent starting quarterback. Because the team had come within several plays of going to the Super Bowl just a year before, and because Smith had recently garnered one of the league's premier QB ratings, the decision was a controversial one.
But Kaepernick shut out the noise. As the wins mounted, Kaepernick's celebrity grew, even his well-tattooed arms gained notoriety. In his first postseason start, he dominated Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, rushing for 181 yards to a set a new NFL single game record for a quarterback. After defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game, Kaepernick and the 49ers fell to Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
"It's good to get the experience," a somber Kaepernick said after the game. "We should have won that game regardless, though."
Kaepernick opened the 2013 season on a strong note, passing for 412 yards and three touchdowns. The 49ers went on to notch a 12-4 record and earn a playoff berth, although this time the season ended with a close loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game.
Despite more standout moments from their franchise QB, the 49ers slipped to an 8-8 mark in 2014. The wheels then completely came off in 2015, with Kaepernick losing his starting job before being sidelined for the final month-plus with a shoulder injury. After the season, his desire to be traded to another team went unfulfilled.
National Anthem Controversy
Kaepernick became embroiled in a thorny issue when he refused to stand for the national anthem before a preseason game in late August 2016.
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color," he said afterward in an interview. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way." He added that he would continue to sit during the national anthem until seeing "significant change" for minorities.
Over the course of the season, Kaepernick continued to draw attention for his refusal to stand for the anthem, drawing both support and condemnation from fellow NFL players, politicians and celebrities. On the field, he delivered a solid performance, throwing 16 touchdowns against four interceptions and rushing for 468 yards, though the team went just 1-10 during the games he started. At the conclusion of the season, he became a free agent.
Kaepernick remained a man without a team as the 2017 NFL season began. Meanwhile, his own quiet form of protest had expanded into something much larger, with several players on each NFL team making a point of kneeling during the anthem, and athletes from other sports demonstrating their support as well. The issue became a hot-button political topic, with U.S. President Donald Trump weighing in by calling for kneeling NFL players to be fired during a September rally in Alabama.
On October 15, 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against NFL owners for collusion. The filing stated that the NFL and its owners "have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick's leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States."
The following month, GQ released its December issue with Kaepernick on the cover as its "Citizen of the Year." In an accompanying press release, the magazine explained the rationale for its decision:
"He's been vilified by millions and locked out of the NFL — all because he took a knee to protest police brutality," the statement read. "Colin Kaepernick's determined stand puts him in rare company in sports history: Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson — athletes who risked everything to make a difference."
On December 3, Kaepernick was honored with the Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award at the ACLU of Southern California's annual Bill of Rights dinner. The following day, he was revealed to be a finalist for TIME's Person of the Year designation. Although he did not win — Time honored "The Silence Breakers," women who came forward to share experiences of sexual harassment — Kaepernick soon earned more recognition as the recipient of Sports Illustrated's Muhammad Ali Legacy Award, given to former athletes and sports figures who embody the ideals of sportsmanship, leadership and philanthropy as vehicles for changing the world.
On August 30, 2018, an arbitrator denied the NFL's request to dismiss Kaepernick's grievance, indicating that the quarterback presented sufficient evidence to support his collusion claims.
The athlete returned to the headlines in February 2019, when a dispute arose in the Wisconsin State Assembly over whether to include his name in a resolution to honor prominent African Americans for Black History Month. An amended version of the resolution, without mention of Kaepernick, eventually passed.
Shortly afterward, on February 15, his legal battle against the NFL reached a sudden conclusion when the two sides announced that they had agreed to a confidential settlement.
On September 3, 2018, Nike revealed Kaepernick as the face of the company's "Just Do It" 30th-anniversary campaign. The ad featured a close-up of his face with the phrase "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything." Nike received immediate backlash for featuring the controversial quarterback, with people even burning their Nike gear.
The following summer, The Wall Street Journal reported that Kaepernick had convinced Nike to alter a shoe design that featured the original U.S. flag, due to concerns that the flag represented a connection to a time when slavery was legal.
On November 12, 2019, it was announced that the NFL was staging a private workout for Kaepernick at the Atlanta Falcons' practice facility on November 16, with representatives from all 32 teams invited to attend.
There were problems with the arrangement from the get-go, as Kaepernick reportedly was given just two hours to confirm or decline the offer. His team later found problems with the language of the waiver he had to sign, and he was denied the chance to bring his own camera crew to the event.
As a result, shortly before the originally scheduled starting time, Kaepernick announced that he was moving the workout to a high school approximately one hour away. Despite the late notice, personnel from eight NFL teams made the trip to watch the QB, who reportedly showed he still possessed an NFL-caliber arm and speed during his 40-minute exhibition.
"I've been ready for three years," he said afterward. "I've been denied for three years. We all know why I came out here. [I] showed it today in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide. So we're waiting for the 32 owners, 32 teams, [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell, all of them stop running. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people."
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