Colin Kaepernick has been staging public, anti-police protests longer than you might realize including practicing last month in socks that depicted pigs in police uniforms.
The San Francisco 49ers quarterback prompted both admiration and outrage when he sat in protest during the national anthem prior to his team’s pre-season game last Friday. It’s a spiraling, social media-fueled story that plays to notions of free will, patriotism and societal turmoil.
But Kaepernick sitting in protest last Friday wasn’t the beginning. And it’s hardly the end.
San Francisco’s final preseason game is Thursday night. It’s a big, big deal for Kaepernick for reasons that have nothing to do with police or protesting.
A 28-year-old former star whose career is now on the ropes, Kaepernick will make his first start of the pre-season in San Diego against the Chargers. Kaepernick is competing for the Niners’ starting quarterback job. The Chargers plan to honor military members at the game before kickoff. [UPDATE 7:17 p.m.: Kaepernick did sit again for the anthem Thursday, per ESPN’s Jim Trotter, and was joined by teammate Eric Reid.]
That’s quite a dramatic stage for Kaepernick, who’s the NFL’s most notorious man after sitting for the “The Star Spangled Banner” last Friday. Now under scrutiny, old skeletons or socks, as the case may be are being dragged from his closet.
And so we arrive at our current moment’s uproar over Kaepernick wearing socks decorated with pigs in uniform, footwear that became a hot topic among sports fans Thursday.
But and here’s the most interesting part Kaepernick actually wore the socks two weeks before he was thrust into the public eye for sitting during the national anthem on Aug. 26. Here’s a tweet from Courtney Cronin of the San Jose Mercury News on Aug. 12, as well as a better look at the socks in question.
Colin Kaepernick’s socks from practice today. That’s a police bulldog. pic.twitter.com/AN92dY1hhW
Courtney Cronin (@CourtneyRCronin) August 12, 2016
Juanald Trump (@JUANALDxTRUMP) August 31, 2016
“Pigs,” of course, is a derogatory term for police officers. Kaepernick is protesting the treatment of African Americans by law enforcement officers, following a string on incidents in which police killed unarmed black men.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said after his silent protest last Friday. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Back in early August when Kaepernick wore his pig socks, hardly an eye was batted. Now, following his anthem protest, they are a thing. But longtime 49ers fans observed Kaepernick’s transformation begin much, much earlier.
A star is born now check out these abs!
Kaepernick possesses one of the NFL’s more interesting career arcs for better and worse. He was a high school baseball star who spurned scholarship offers in that sport to chase his dream of being a pro football player. He grew into a star quarterback at Nevada. The 49ers one of the NFL’s iconic franchises picked him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
During the 2012 season, Kaepernick seized San Francisco’s starting job during a surprise run in which the 49ers nearly won Super Bowl XLVII. NFL fans, who simply called him “Kaep,” assumed a star had been born. He offered further proof by throwing for more than 400 yards in the 2013 season opener.
Online, too, Kaepernick appeared ready for stardom. He had a particular habit one that did not at all go unnoticed of flaunting his physique, in particular his tummy, on social media and magazine covers.
“Kaepernicks got the abs and we cant stop looking at them,” a fashion and beauty site called StyleBlazer.com wrote in 2014. “How great is it that he loves showing them off?!”
In May 2015, Kaepernick was criticized for using floods in Houston to trash talk the city’s NFL fans. He quickly apologized then posted a photo of his abs minutes later.
That’s just social media, you could argue. But the social web is Kaepernick’s most direct line to fans and one he’s using much differently today.
When Kaepernick sat but no one noticed
Kaepernick’s career has listed over the past couple seasons. Now the young man who was once an ascending star is competing for San Francisco’s starting job with Blaine Gabbert, a bust from the same 2011 draft in which the Niners took Kaepernick.
Kaepernick’s Instagram profile, too, tells a different story. You have to go back well over a year to find one of those classic Kaep ab-shots, for example, or see him suited up on a red carpet.
In recent months, he’s taken to posting messages about police brutality, photos of old civil rights leaders and memes criticizing discrimination, along with other politically charged messages. This all got relatively little media play, however, with Kaepernick no longer an NFL headliner.
Here’s a post from nearly 40 weeks ago, for example.
Before they blew up, his seated anthem protests even went unnoticed for weeks.
Kaepernick sat during the national anthem during the 49ers’ first two preseason games, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. But because he was not in uniform and not scheduled to play hardly anyone seemed to notice or care.
Colin Kaepernick didn’t stand for National Anthem in first 2 preseason games, either: few noticed because he wasn’t in uniform, didn’t play.
Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) August 27, 2016
Kaepernick then made the very same silent pre-game statement last Friday. This time, he was in uniform and everyone noticed. It’s been the sports world’s dominant storyline since.
Strange how it all goes, right? Now we’re digging up old photos of socks on the very same day Kaepernick will make his first pre-season start of 2016.
Kaepernick himself addressed the socks on (where else?) Instagram after the story spread Thursday.
Kaepernick says he plans to protest again Thursday night in San Diego. Boos are likely rain down upon him before kickoff. Then he’ll take take the field to compete for a starting job with the stakes exponentially raised in that vague yet passionate manner particular to modern pro sports.
The circus will go on. The circus always goes on. It’s just Kaepernick, for now, who’s in the center ring.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.