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 …
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 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. On October 15, 2015, for instance, Kaepernick wrote: “History!” in an Instagram post marking the 50-year anniversary of the founding of the Black Panthers; the post featured an iconic photograph showing Huey Newton holding a loaded shotgun.
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:
- “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
- “When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
- “There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people…. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
- “At what point do we take a stand and, as a people, say this isn’t right? You [the police] have a badge and you’re supposed to be protecting us, not murdering us.”
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 2017, Kaepernick was named GQ magazine’s “Citizen of the Year.” In April 2018, Amnesty International honored him with its Ambassador of Conscience Award, which “celebrates individuals and groups who speak out for justice.”
Further Reading: “Colin Kaepernick” (Biography.com); “Kaepernick Social Media Posts Laud Black Lives Matter, Black Panthers Since Dating Activist DJ” (Fox News, 8-30-16); “Colin Kaepernick Praises “Good Things” Done by Communist Fidel Castro” (UPI, 11-27-16).