Day 6·Q&A

Colin Kaepernick taking a knee set stage for BLM protests, Kamala Harris as VP: writer

Five years ago, Colin Kaepernick, then a star NFL recruit, began kneeling during football games in a protest of violence against Black people, igniting conversations surrounding race, policing and activism in sports. Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Marcus Hayes says those protests have reverberated across America.

'I think he understands the way the world works better now,' says Marcus Hayes

Colin Kaepernick become known for taking a knee at the start of football games, igniting conversations around race, policing and activism in sports. (Carmen Mandato/Getty Images/File)

Five years after Colin Kaepernick first took a knee, writer Marcus Hayes says without the athlete's protest, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris might not be in the White House.

In August 2016, Kaepernick, then a star NFL player, began kneeling during football games in a protest of violence against Black people, igniting conversations surrounding race, policing and activism in sports.

Though Kaepernick rarely speaks publicly, he's now the narrator of the new autobiographical drama series Colin in Black & White, released Friday on Netflix and tells the story of his teenage years.

Hayes, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, spoke with Day 6 host Peter Armstrong about Kaepernick's career and activism since first taking a knee in August 2016. Here is part of that conversation.

All these years later, and all the distance between, how is Colin Kaepernick's presence still felt today?

You just look around you, can feel it. He's omnipresent if you look closely enough with the right lens. I mean, do we have Kamala Harris as the vice president of the United States without Colin Kaepernick?

This all sort of exploded with the murder of George Floyd. But does the murder of George Floyd explode without the presence of Colin Kaepernick sort of looming for the previous four years? Do we still have Donald Trump in office [without Kaepernick]? Possibly.

Colin Kaepernick is seen above participating in a workout for NFL football scouts and media in November 2019. The free-agent quarterback last played in 2016. (Todd Kirkland/The Associated Press)

Maybe the social unrest which spurred unprecedented voter turnout — along with the pandemic — maybe that doesn't happen without Colin Kaepernick, leading to George Floyd, leading to the candidacy of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

I mean, it's just amazing. The ripple effect of what Colin Kaepernick began is something that you and I might not see again in our lifetime, and I'm not sure if we've seen anything like it, especially something so innocuous as a guy ... unintentionally raising that protest about police brutality against Black men in America to such prominence. And at the time, he was a backup quarterback at a pre-season game.

The NFL will never fundamentally change until the ownership fundamentally changes. And I just can't see that happening.- Marcus Hayes, columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer

You talk about how what he did has just sort of layered atop all of society. You mentioned George Floyd and the huge protests that went on for weeks and months. And I wondered, did you think of Colin Kaepernick as you watched that unfold?

Every moment. George Floyd was murdered by a cop kneeling on his neck. Colin Kaepernick's protest was kneeling during the national anthem, which was a compromise. He was sitting before, but an ... ex-member of the military convinced him to compromise by kneeling. So the imagery there was immediate.

I can't remember if I tweeted or not that this is exactly what Colin Kaepernick was talking about and how horrific it is to see it manifest itself in this moment this way.

Jon Gruden's emails were discovered in a workplace misconduct investigation into the Washington Football Team but ended up costing him his job. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

There are so many NFL owners who criticized Kaepernick for taking the knee. We're now seeing these recently leaked emails from the former head coach, Jon Gruden, in which he said that Kaepernick should be fired. And he certainly wasn't alone in that. And I wonder: were Gruden's emails about Kaepernick at all a surprise to you?

The dirty little secret about this, or I guess the thing that I think goes underappreciated, is he was sending these emails as [an analyst on ESPN] to NFL executives who were agreeing with him. Then he became an NFL executive. So any contention that the National Football League is no longer racist, no longer sexist, you should be disabused of that notion forever at this point.

After all those became more public and more talked about in society, finally, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said that ... "I wish we had listened earlier." Do you see any real change in the NFL since 2016?

The NFL is scared. The NFL's 32 owners, who are overwhelmingly old, rich white men, they haven't changed. But they are scared now. They're scared that their product will be tainted.

And it's interesting that in the beginning of this journey, as Donald Trump's candidacy and denigration of Colin Kaepernick escalated, the owners were scared of Donald Trump. Now they're scared of the people they should be scared of: the overwhelming majority of American people who supported Colin Kaepernick and still do. That's the only real change that I see.

Commissioner Goodell says NFL was wrong for not listening to players fighting for equality

2 years ago
Duration 0:50
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says the league was wrong for not listening to players fighting for racial equality and encourages them to peacefully protest.

Roger Goodell does not wish he listened earlier, because he's still not listening. There are two Black head coaches in the NFL. There aren't enough quarterbacks coaches, and that's kind of the progression to become a head coach in the NFL, and that's kind of where we need to start. And it's been an ongoing struggle for 21 years with the Fritz Pollard alliance and entities like that who advocate for Black head coaches to represent the 70 per cent of players who are African American in the NFL.

So the NFL will never fundamentally change until the ownership fundamentally changes. And I just can't see that happening.

Last week, we learned that the Kaepernick is still training and hopes to return to the NFL. What do you think? Does that ever happen? 

I don't think so. I mean, there were lots of people who were very pro-Kaepernick, who helped organize a tryout for Kaepernick in Florida [in 2019], and he sabotaged that and he lost a lot of allies.

And the league's stance now is: "Not only did you sabotage it, we gave you a tryout. And then after your tryout, you denigrated us. You took it as an opportunity to call us liars. You took it as an opportunity to embarrass us." I don't think any team will ever take another chance on Colin Kaepernick after that episode.

There's a clip in the series in which Kaepernick says — and it's really just stuck with me — this notion that what you start out as isn't necessarily what you become. And I spent a lot of time thinking about that. And I wonder, what do you think Colin Kaepernick has become?

Mature. I think he understands the way the world works better now. I think he understands the things that he might have been able to do better, and maybe he wouldn't have listened to some of the people he listened to. And maybe he sees it as a missed opportunity. Those are the things when I hear from Colin Kaepernick, those are the things I hear in his voice, and I think he's a different person today than he was in August of 2016. 

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Laurie Allan. This Q&A was edited for length and clarity.

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