As the 2017 NFL season approached and Colin Kaepernick remained jobless, civil rights activist Harry Edwards felt compelled to send Commissioner Roger Goodell an email.
The two men have known each other for many years. Edwards always has been direct.
“To make a martyr out of Kaepernick under these circumstances is not only counterproductive, as I tried to explain to Roger, it’s absolutely masochistic,’’ Edwards told USA TODAY Sports. “All they had to do is say ‘We’re going to give him a shot.’ That’s all they had to do.’’
Kaepernick, a free agent quarterback who parted ways with the San Francisco 49ers after last season, has yet to get a shot to continue his NFL career after emerging as a controversial figure for taking a knee during the national anthem and speaking about social injustice.
On Sunday, more than 100 NFL players participated in an unprecedented display as they too protested during the national anthem, many wearing or holding T-shirts that read #IMWITHKAP. This time, though, the message was largely intended for President Trump, who has called for team owners to fire or suspend protesters.
Last month, a crowd gathered outside the NFL headquarters in New York City and protested amid a belief that team owners have blackballed Kaepernick because of his on-field protest.
Trump’s comments last week only elevated Kaepernick’s status and influence.
“Right now he’s a walking, talking martyr,’’ Rev. Jesse Jackson told USA TODAY Sports.
At the beginning, though, Kaeperick sat alone.
It was Aug. 14, 2016. At Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. Minutes before kickoff of a preseason opener between the 49ers and the Houston Texans.
Kaepernick, nursing a shoulder injury, was out of uniform and inactive for the game. As the players stood for the national anthem, he remained seated.
His protest went largely unnoticed and unreported. Same thing the following week when the 49ers played the Denver Broncos and Kaepernick sat during the anthem but made no extra effort to call attention to himself. A week later, during the 49ers’ game against the Green Bay Packers, everything changed.
Jennifer Lee Chan of Niners Nation tweeted out a photo of Kaepernick sitting in front of Gatorade coolers during the national anthem. After the game, Kaepernick confirmed his protest.
Then fighting for the starting job he eventually won back, Kaepernick made it clear he was also fighting for social justice and against police brutality against African Americans.