Supporters of football star Colin Kaepernick came out in force Wednesday in New York, backing the quarterback they say has been blacklisted by the NFL for repeatedly taking a knee during the national anthem before games last season.
At the rally, dubbed by organizers as “United We Stand,” hundreds of individuals converged near the NFL offices in Manhattan, including several fraternities and activists, railing against the shunning of Kaepernick by numerous teams in the league despite a dearth of serviceable quarterbacks available.
Kaepernick, 29, who wasn’t present at the rally, was born to a black man and a white woman. He began his demonstration in protest of, among other things, the state of race relations in the United States. But despite his immense talent and having led the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl as recently as 2013, no team has signed the free agent — and his backers say the two facts aren’t unrelated.
“There are people who are saying, ‘What’s all the fuss about? What’s all the confusion?’” said Tamika D. Mallory, an activist and founder of Mallory Consulting, and the national co-chair for the Women’s March.
“They say, ‘people get dropped from teams all of the time.’ …. Those who say that are confused,” Mallory said. “They have decided to ignore racism, bigotry and white supremacy in this country. They would have you turn your eyes from what you see.
“Don’t let them tell you we are here for one man,” she said. “I think Colin Kaepernick is wonderful, but even Colin Kaepernick will tell you that he didn’t just kneel for himself and his family, he kneeled for all of us.”
Many in attendance held up signs reading “NFL Blackout” and “Kaepernick We Kneel with You,” while chanting “stay woke!”
The heart of the Big Apple appeared filled with many who wore shirts depicting Kaepernick taking a knee with his trademark Afro hairstyle and holding up the Black Power fist. Kurtis Blow and Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour were among several celebrities that joined the crowd.
Groups such as the NAACP, the Justice League of NYC and Color of Change were also on hand, while filmmaker Spike Lee endorsed the rally, calling Kaepernick his brother.
NAACP interim President Derrick Johnson also wrote a letter requesting a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who maintains that teams are not prohibited from signing Kaepernick.
“Last season, Mr. Kaepernick chose to exercise his First Amendment rights by protecting the inequitable treatment of people of color in America,” Johnson said in the letter. “By quietly taking a knee during the national anthem, he was able to shine a light on the many injustices, particularly, the disproportionate occurrences of police misconduct toward communities of color.
“This act is well within the National Football League’s stated bylaws, yet, as the NFL season quickly approaches, Mr. Kaepernick has spent an unprecedented amount of time as a free agent, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that this is no sheer coincidence,” Johnson wrote. “No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech — to do so is in violation of his rights under the Constitution and the NFL’s own regulations.”
Two days before the rally, dozens of mostly African-American New York City Police Department officers also came out in support of Kaepernick during a rally in Brooklyn, led by legendary retired NYPD officer Frank Serpico.
“What Colin Kaepernick did is try to bring awareness that this nation unfortunately has ignored for far too long,” said Sgt. Edwin Raymond. “We decided to gather because of the way he’s being railroaded for speaking the obvious truth.”
Serpico said he attended because he supports “anyone who has the courage to stand up against injustice and oppression anywhere in this country and the world.”
Before Wednesday’s rally, baseball great Hank Aaron also expressed his support for Kaepernick.
“I think he’s getting a raw deal,” Aaron said on “The Tom Joyner Morning Show.” “If you look at all the quarterbacks in the league right now, he is one, two, three, four. I don’t think anybody can do the things he could do. I wish somebody would open up and give him a chance to do his thing.”
The baseball hero said he’d love for other players to stand up with Kaepernick.
“I’d love that,” he said. “I think it would give him incentive, I think it would help him. The thing that bothers me about this whole situation is the fact that he is going to all these camps and nobody seems to think he stands a chance of being number one. This is a young player who almost carried a team to a championship, to a Super Bowl.”
The Kaepernick-led 49ers lost 34-31 to the Ravens in Super Bowl XL.