Colin Rand Kaepernick, born November 3, 1987 is an American football quarterback who is currently a free agent. Kaepernick played college football for the University of Nevada in Reno, where he was named the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Offensive Player of the Year twice and became the only player in NCAA Division I FBS history to amass 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards in a career. After graduating, he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Kaepernick began his professional football career as a backup quarterback to Alex Smith, and became the 49ers’ starter in the middle of the 2012 season after Smith suffered a concussion. He then remained the team’s starting quarterback for the rest of the season, leading the team to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994. During the 2013 season, his first full season as a starter, Kaepernick helped the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game. Over the next three seasons, Kaepernick lost and won back his starting job, with the 49ers missing the playoffs for three years consecutively. He opted out of his contract with the 49ers to become a free agent after the 2016 season.
In 2016, Kaepernick became a national figure when he ignited a firestorm of controversy by refusing to stand while the United States national anthem was being played before the start of NFL games. He described his behavior as a protest against racial injustice in the United States. His actions prompted negative and positive responses. The negative responses included suggestions that players who protest should be fired; other people displayed their disapproval of players’ protests by leaving the stadium immediately after the protests or refusing to watch games at all. Positive responses included similar activity by additional athletes in the NFL and other American sports leagues protesting in various ways during the anthem. In November 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL and its owners, accusing them of colluding to not hire him. In 2018, Amnesty International awarded Kaepernick with that year’s Ambassador of Conscience award.
Kaepernick is of mixed race. He was born in 1987 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to Heidi Russo, a 19-year-old white woman who was single at the time. His birth father, an African American man, left Russo before Colin was born. Russo placed Colin for adoption with Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, a white couple who had two older children son Kyle and daughter Devon—and were looking for a boy after losing two other sons to heart defects. The German surname Käpernick is derived from Köppernig, the ancestral home of Nicolaus Copernicus (today the Polish village of Koperniki).
Kaepernick lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, until age four, and attended grade school in Turlock, California. When he was eight years old, Kaepernick began playing youth football as a defensive end and punter. At age nine, he was the starting quarterback on his youth team, and he completed his first pass for a long touchdown. A 4.0 GPA student at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, California, Kaepernick played football, basketball and baseball and was nominated for All-State selection in all three sports his senior year. He was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the Central California Conference in football, leading his school to its first-ever playoff victory. In basketball, he was a first-team all CCC selection at forward and led his 16th-ranked team to a near upset of #1 ranked Oak Ridge High School in the opening round of playoffs. In that game, Kaepernick scored 34 points, but future NBA player Ryan Anderson of Oak Ridge scored 50 to lead the Oak Ridge Trojans to victory over John Pitman High School.
Kaepernick soon became highly polarizing as numerous people took public stances either supporting or maligning Kaepernick’s actions; in many cases this polarization correlates with racial divisions. Various members of the NFL and other athletes across the United States, such as American professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe, also began kneeling and/or raising their fist like the 1968 Olympics Black Power salute during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. Some U.S. military veterans voiced support using the social media hashtag “#VeteransForKaepernick”. In the following weeks, Kaepernick’s jersey became the top-selling jersey on the NFL’s official shop website. An NFL fan poll was taken during the beginning of the 2016 NFL season and Kaepernick was voted the most disliked player in the NFL; this poll was polarized, with 37% of Caucasians disliking him “a lot”, and 42% of African-Americans liking him “a lot.” A few people posted videos of them burning Kaepernick jerseys. Former NFL MVP Boomer Esiason called Kaepernick’s actions “an embarrassment” while an anonymous NFL executive called Kaepernick “a traitor”. The 2016 NFL season also saw a significant drop in their television ratings. Polls suggest that fans boycotting the NFL because of Kaepernick-inspired protests were a contributor to the decline in viewers. He also stated that he received death threats.
In September 2016, sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote of the double bind faced by black people: “Black folk have, throughout history, displayed their patriotism by criticizing the nation for its shortcomings, and they have been, in turn, roundly criticized.” Dyson suggested that the wisdom of the abolitionist Frederick Douglass maintains relevance to racism in the context of Kaepernick and protest. Dyson concluded, “When a black athlete bravely speaks up, we punish him.”
In August 2017, former NYPD officer Frank Serpico gave a speech live on Facebook and stood with police officers at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in support of Kaepernick. The same month, Pro Football Hall of Famer and longtime civil rights activist Jim Brown told an interviewer that while he “wants to be in Kaepernick’s corner”, he would never “desecrate my flag and my national anthem.”
In September 2017, President Donald Trump sent out multiple tweets, in which he advocated that NFL players should be either fired or suspended if they fail to stand up for the national anthem. In response, many NFL teams and players stood together to protest against Trump’s opinion. The players knelt, locked arms, or remained in the locker room during the playing of the anthem.
Kaepernick was baptized Methodist, confirmed Lutheran, and attended a Baptist church during his college years. Kaepernick spoke about his faith saying, “My faith is the basis from where my game comes from. I’ve been very blessed to have the talent to play the game that I do and be successful at it. I think God guides me through every day and helps me take the right steps and has helped me to get to where I’m at. When I step on the field, I always say a prayer, say I am thankful to be able to wake up that morning and go out there and try to glorify the Lord with what I do on the field. I think if you go out and try to do that, no matter what you do on the field, you can be happy about what you did.”
Kaepernick has multiple tattoos. His right arm features a scroll with the Bible verse Psalm 18:39 written on it. Tattooed under the scroll are praying hands with the phrase “To God The Glory” written on them. To the left of both the scroll and praying hands is the word “Faith” written vertically. His left arm features a Christian cross with the words “Heaven Sent” on it referring to Jesus. Written above and below the cross is the phrase “God Will Guide Me”. Written to the left and right of the cross is the Bible verse Psalm 27:3. His chest features the phrase “Against All Odds” and artwork around it that represents “inner strength, spiritual growth, and humility”. His back features a mural of angels against demons. Near the end of the 2012 NFL season, Kaepernick’s signature touchdown celebration involved flexing and kissing the bicep of his right arm. Kaepernick says he kisses his “Faith”, “To God The Glory”, and Psalm 18:39 tattoos and the reason he does the celebration is because “God has brought me this far. He has laid out a phenomenal path for me. And I can’t do anything but thank Him.”
Kaepernick reportedly started dating radio personality and television host Nessa Diab in July 2015, and officially went public about their relationship in February 2016. Kaepernick began following a vegan diet in late 2015.
Since he was 10 years old, Kaepernick has had a pet African spurred tortoise named Sammy.