Colin Rand Kaepernick was born on November 3, 1987, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His birth mother was a 19-year-old white woman named Heidi Russo, who placed the child up for adoption after his black biological father fled upon learning that Russo was pregnant. When Colin was just a few weeks old, he was adopted by a white couple, Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. Colin later became a star quarterback for the University of Nevada-Reno football team, and in 2011 he was drafted by the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers. In 2014 he signed a seven-year, $126 million contract with the 49ers.
Kaepernick became politically radicalized after he began dating MTV host Nessa Diab in July 2015. Diab’s Twitter and Instagram accounts were replete with posts supporting black activism generally and the Black Lives Matter movement in particular. By early autumn 2015, Kaepernick’s social media posts and other public statements began to reference similar themes, sometimes featuring quotes from the late Nation of Islam leader Malcolm X, Black Panther Party founder Huey Newton, and the Marxist cop-killer Assata Shakur.
Kaepernick made national headlines in August 2016, when, as a gesture of protest against allegedly widespread police brutality and racial injustice in the United States, he defiantly remained seated during the playing of the national anthem prior to the start of a pre-season football game. He subsequently justified his action by stating:
Kaepernick stirred further controversy when he appeared at an August 30, 2016 press conference wearing a black hat emblazoned with a large, white “X,” and a t-shirt bearing photographs of Malcolm X and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. A slogan on the shirt read, “Like Minds Think Alike.” When a reporter subsequently asked Kaepernick to articulate why he held a positive view of Castro, the quarterback said: “… I agree in the [Castro’s] investment in education. I also agree in the investment of free universal healthcare. As well as the involvement in him helping end apartheid in South Africa.”
Altogether, Kaepernick sat during the national anthem preceding three consecutive games. Prior to the fourth game, he instead — for public-relations purposes — knelt during the anthem, and this became his preferred method of protest thenceforth.
In early September 2016, a number of news outlets began to show some newly discovered photographs of Kaepernick, during an August 10th preseason training session, wearing socks that depicted police officers as pigs.
As the 2016-17 NFL season wore on, many additional players throughout the league also began to kneel during the pre-game anthem – like Kaepernick, as a gesture of protest against institutional racism and police misconduct.
On March 3, 2017, Kaepernick officially opted out of his seven-year contract with the 49ers, thereby becoming a free agent. But when no teams subsequently extended any contract offers to him, Kaepernick in November 2017 filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging that the team owners were colluding to keep him out of the league.
In September 2018, Kaepernick signed a lucrative multi-year deal with the Nike sports apparel company, making him the face of the 30th anniversary of its famous “Just Do It” campaign. As part of the deal, Nike pledged to produce as much new Kaepernick apparel as the market would bear. It also promised to donate money to Kaepernick’s “Know Your Rights” campaign, an initiative whose mission is “to fight oppression of all kinds … through education and social activism.”
In the summer of 2019, Nike was planning to release a red, white, and blue “Betsy Ross” or “Fourth of July” edition of its “Air Max 1 Quick Strike” shoe, which featured the image of an original American flag with 13 stars arranged in a circle, representing the 13 original American colonies. In response, Kaepernick complained to Nike that the original flag carried a “connection to an era of slavery.” Nike, in turn, chose not to release the shoe because, as the company said in a statement, “it featured an old version of the American flag.”
In November 2019, the NFL organized a private, on-field workout for Kaepernick and invited every team in the league to attend. Moreover, the Daily Wire reported: “The workout was set up to provide teams anonymity, so if they watched Kaepernick and didn’t want him, they wouldn’t catch flack. This was done to encourage more teams to attend the event, thus helping the quarterback secure a position.” But Kaepernick abruptly cancelled the 3 p.m. workout approximately 30 minutes before it was scheduled to begin, because: (a) he was not allowed to bring his own camera crew to the event, and (b) the league had demanded that as a precondition to the workout, Kaepernick sign a standard liability waiver in case he were to be injured. Kaepernick then conducted a workout at 4 p.m. at a high-school field 51 miles away, where he wore a “Kunta Kinte” t-shirt, likening himself to the defiant slave who bore that name in the movie Roots.
In a Thanksgiving Day tweet on November 28, 2019, Kaepernick wrote: “Spent the morning at the Indigenous People’s Sunrise Ceremony on the 50 year anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz. The US government has stolen over 1.5 billion acres of land from Indigenous people. Thank you to my Indigenous family, I’m with you today and always.”
Shortly after President Trump had ordered the January 3, 2020 drone strike in Baghdad that killed General Qassem Soleimani, the terrorist leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Kaepernick tweeted: “There is nothing new about American terrorist attacks against Black and Brown people for the expansion of American imperialism.” In a separate tweet, Kaepernick wrote: “America has always sanctioned and besieged Black and Brown bodies both at home and abroad. America militarism is the weapon wielded by American imperialism, to enforce its policing and plundering of the nonwhite world.”
On May 28, 2020, Kaepernick supported the violent riots that broke out in many American cities following a white police officer’s abuse of, and killing of, a 46-year-old black Minneapolis man named George Floyd. Tweeted Kaepernick: “When civility leads to death, revolting is the only logical reaction. The cries for peace will rain down, and when they do, they will land on deaf ears, because your [white police] violence has brought this resistance. We have the right to fight back! Rest in Power George Floyd.”
On June 29, 2020, Netflix announced its plan to produce — in partnership with Ava DuVernay — Colin in Black & White, a six-episode series focusing on Kaepernick’s high-school years. “Too often we see race and Black stories portrayed through a white lens,” Kaepernick said in a news release. “We seek to give new perspective to the differing realities that Black people face. We explore the racial conflicts I faced as an adopted Black man in a white community, during my high school years. It’s an honor to bring these stories to life in collaboration with Ava for the world to see.”
In a July 4, 2020 tweet, Kaepernick posted a video showing images of the Ku Klux Klan, police brutality, slavery, and lynchings. He denounced the nation’s 244th birthday as a “celebration of white supremacy.” Above the video, he wrote this caption: “Black ppl have been dehumanized, brutalized, criminalized + terrorized by America for centuries, & are expected to join your commemoration of ‘independence’, while you enslaved our ancestors. We reject your celebration of white supremacy & look forward to liberation for all.”
On July 6, 2020, Kaepernick signed a contract with The Walt Disney Company and ESPN to produce “scripted and unscripted stories that deal with race, social injustice and the quest for equity,” including a documentary series about his own life.
On October 6, 2020, Kaepernick announced that he was partnering with LEVEL (a part of the online publishing platform Medium) to launch “Abolition for the People,” a movement aimed at ending the “scourge of police terrorism.” Vibe.com reported on Kaepernick’s project as follows:
“Over the next four weeks, the [‘Abolition for the People’] project will publish 30 stories from organizers, political prisoners, scholars, and advocates — all of which point to the crucial conclusion that policing and prisons do not serve as catch-all solutions for the issues and people the state deems social problems. Not only do police and prisons fail to make us safer, but reform has only strengthened their most toxic ingrained practices. The only answer is abolition, a full dismantling of the carceral state and the institutions that support it. Instead, we need to invest in a future that puts justice and the needs of the community first. A future that, as Colin Kaepernick himself says in his introductory essay, makes us safer, healthier, and truly free. The need for abolition is rooted in the anti-Blackness intrinsic to policing and incarceration — phenomena which will be amply proven over the coming days — but the realization of it offers justice for all people in all communities and global liberation from systemic oppression.”
In an October 7, 2020 screed published on his Medium page, Kaepernick called for abolishing America’s police departments, which he said had “roots in white supremacy and anti-blackness.” Claiming that the “central intent” of law enforcement is to “surveil, terrorize, capture, and kill marginalized populations, specifically Black folks,” Kaepernick added: “Abolition is the only way to secure a future beyond anti-Black institutions of social control, violence, and premature death. Abolition is the only way to secure a future beyond anti-Black institutions of social control, violence, and premature death.”
During a November 2020 video conference, Kaepernick demanded that Pennsylvania political authorities release Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther who was convicted of killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981 and was sentenced to life in prison. Claiming that Mumia had been wrongly convicted as a result of evidence-tampering by police, Kaepernick said: “Mumia has maintained his innocence. His story has not changed. Mumia was shot, brutalized, arrested and chained to a hospital bed. We’re in the midst of a movement that says Black Lives Matter, and if that’s truly the case, then it means that Mumia’s life and legacy must matter. And the causes that he sacrificed his life and freedom for must matter as well.”
Further Reading: “Colin Kaepernick” (Biography.com).