Colin Kaepernick: The renegade NFL quarterback on a collision course with Donald Trump

Colin Kaepernick - the NFL quarterback unafraid to speak his mind

Colin Kaepernick

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mention the name Colin Kaepernick to an American and you're likely to illicit either awed respect or cold contempt, depending on who you talk to.

Prior to 2016, you'd be forgiven for not knowing the quarterback's name, unless you were an avid fan of the team he plays for, the San Francisco 49ers.

But he has come to national and international attention in the last few months, thanks to one particularly incendiary gesture.

At every match in the National Football League, in fact any sporting league in the United States, America's national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner is heard as part of a long-running tradition eching back to the First World War, when President Woodrow Wilson ordered it to be played at military and other appropriate occasions.

It was meant to inspire morale in times of war and conflict, and to signify that Americans stand strong as a united people. The tradition is that people stand up while the anthem is played.

But in August, in the wake of several high-profile shootings of unarmed black men by police officers, Kaepernick sat down in protest during the national anthem in the ceremony ahead of a face-off with the Green Bay Packers.

When asked about it later in a post game interview, he told reporters he would not "show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

He said: "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish for me to look the other way.

"There are bodies in the street, people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

While his team supported and respected his will to sit down during the anthem, noting in a statement players are "encouraged to stand" but not forced to do so, his action drew heavy criticism. The 29-year-old has since said he has received death threats, and a disgruntled NFL executive reportedly branded him a "traitor" over his actions.

Since then, Kaepernick has taken strident measures to ensure his opinion is known. He is active on Twitter, and recently revealed he had not voted in the recent election because he claimed it would be "hypocritical" for him to cast a ballot. 

His most recent controversy came to a head yesterday, when he was greeted by boos and jeers after he took to the field of Miami's Hard Rock Stadium for a match against the Dolphins. 

This was because of remarks he reportedly made in regard to Fidel Castro, who died at the age of 90 on Friday. In August, he had worn a T-shirt depicting Castro meeting Malcolm X, the influential African-American activist assassinated in 1965.

When asked about this in an interview ahead of Sunday's match, Miami Herald columnist Armando Salguero claimed Kaepernick praised Castro for investing in Cuba's education while lambasting American investments made to the prison system. 

These remarks apparently led to "bad blood" between Kaepernick and a number of the Dolphins' fans and players. Miami is home to a large community of Cuban exiles, many of whom consider Castro's legacy to be that of a brutal oppressor.

In post-match interviews, Kaepernick denied this, saying the remarks had been taken out of context.

He said: "I agree with investment in education. I also agree with investment in free universal health care, as well as the involvement to end apartheid in South Africa. 

"I would hope that everybody agrees these are good things. Trying to push the false narrative that I supported the oppressive things that he [Fidel Castro] did is just not true."

In an age when elite sportspeople lead largely bland, trouble-free lives and are media trained to the hilt, the sight of one of their number breaking ranks and getting political might inspire admiration in some.

But it's unlikely to be seen that way by Donald Trump, a man who's as American as apple pie and bottomless sodas, and loves reminding people of the fact.

Trump's election campaign was predicated on a pledge to 'make America great again' by repatriating jobs and, er, building a giant wall between the US and Mexico. He says America's prospects are limitless if the country resolves its internal differences and said that anyone who burns an American flag on his watch will face jail time.

As if you needed reminding, this is a guy who once did some ham acting in the World Wrestling Federation - the hugely popular pseudo-sporting circus in which fans routinely shout 'USA! USA!' at their American heroes and foreigners are made to play cowardly, conniving characters. He sees nothing wrong with being patriotic, even when taken to its cheesiest, most ludicrous extreme.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kaepernick and Trump have already butted heads (well, via the medium of social media). Kaepernick has called Trump a racist, while Trump has suggested Kaepernick should go and find a country that works better for him, and suggested he is the reason NFL's TV ratings have slumped of late.

It will be interesting to see whether Kaepernick pulls another stunt once Trump assumes power next year, and, if so, whether Trump punishes him for it, making an example to other would-be dissidents who dare to disrespect Uncle Sam.

Given the gumption and cussedness of both men, you'd be unwise to bet against it.