The man who used his trumpet to blow a rousing rendition of the national anthem at the Carolina Panthers’ 2016 home opener has three words for San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick – and they might just surprise you.
“I feel ya,” said Phoenix brass master Jesse McGuire, 58, as he pounded his left breast with his right fist three times while sitting in a private room deep within Bank of America Stadium, a couple hours before kickoff on Sunday afternoon.
And this is someone who’s had more than a little time to reflect on the sentiment behind “The Star-Spangled Banner”: Since his debut at a Phoenix Suns game in 1989, McGuire estimates he has performed the song “about 4,000 times that we can prove. At one point, I was doing three anthems a day for three years straight,” he said.
“We’re actually being considered for a world record.”
To put things in perspective, the anthem has been the cornerstone of the jazz musician’s livelihood for almost as long as the 28-year-old Kaepernick has been alive. Therefore, it’s more than a little bit intriguing to hear McGuire’s take – as an anthem guy, but also as an African-American – on the Niners’ QB, who along with teammate Eric Reid kneeled (as they have done together since Week 4 of the preseason) while McGuire stood and played on Sunday.
(San Francisco’s Antoine Bethea, Eli Harold, Rashard Robinson and Jaquiski Tartt, meanwhile, kept their right fists raised during the song. No Panthers protested.)
Kaepernick started kneeling this summer to raise awareness about injustices against African-Americans and other minorities, particularly with regards to police brutality.
“I absolutely and totally respect his right to protest,” said McGuire, who wore dark sunglasses and a No. 14 Panthers jersey as he sat with his wife, Donna, Sunday morning, she in a Cam Newton jersey. “That’s a constitutional right, and anybody trying to take that away from him is trying to violate his constitutional rights.”
“In terms of this stance for the violence,” McGuire continued, “that’s happening all over the world – and to black males especially – I understand and I applaud his stance. … Whether I disagree or not is of no consequence whatsoever. To protest means that you are going to make waves; so if that is the case, and if that’s the definition of a protest, then the desired result of his mission is accomplished.”
In the weeks since Kaepernick first made headlines for not standing during the anthem, media interest has subsided somewhat – only one reporter asked him any questions in the San Francisco locker room after the 49ers loss Sunday. But fan interest has skyrocketed: As he made his way to the team bus, several fans clamored for his attention; his was also arguably the most popular jersey on the visiting team’s fans backs outside the stadium. He did not play a single down in the game.
“I think there’s more awareness out there,” Kaepernick said. “Conversations are being had. But ultimately, the conversations have been being had for a lot of years, and now it’s time that this conversation is out there, for there to be actions that follow that help give these people the justice that they deserve – the liberties and equality that they deserve.”
As for McGuire, this was his second time doing the anthem at Bank of America Stadium, and coincidentally, the first time he did it was also at a Panthers-49ers game.
Of his Jan. 12, 2014, rendition, before Carolina’s 23-10 NFC divisional playoff loss, USA Today said: “(It) was everything a national anthem should be – soaring, inspiring, respectful ... . His high notes are divine.”
Sunday’s performance (which Fox Sports chose not to air) was strikingly similar in terms of the notes and the flourishes, with the main differences being that last time Kaepernick stood, and that this time, the Panthers won. The crowd may have been louder this time, too; its roar almost completely drowned out the last few loudspeaker-assisted blasts from McGuire’s trumpet.
As McGuire made his way off the field afterward, he used one hand to hold his phone as he shot video of the sea of black-and-blue-decked fans, and the other to point at particularly rowdy supporters with his instrument. The adoration seemed unanimous.
And yet, he noted a couple hours earlier, “I get hate mail all the time from people who don’t like the way I play the national anthem. All the time. They call me unpatriotic; they say that the anthem is not about me, it’s about America, and to play the theme straight. ... You see, they want us to be like them, and that’s not what America is about.”
One more thing: If you’re wondering when Kaepernick might start standing again...
“I really can’t say at this point,” the player said, “ ’cause it’ll depend on actions taken throughout this season. A lot of things need to be addressed, and a lot of things need to be changed. Whether they can happen during this season or not, time will tell.”
Bonus clip: On Sept. 11, McGuire played “The Star-Spangled Banner” on his trumpet at Lincoln Financial Field while standing a few yards away from Vice President Joe Biden.
Kae-ctivism: Charlotteans Jibril Hough, 49, and Kass Ottley, 51, held signs reading “Kneel for Justice / United With Kaepernick” on the corner of Mint and Morehead streets before the game. They said they planned to kneel in the aisle near their 500-level seats during the anthem “in support of Kaepernick, justice and against the indoctrination of militarism and patriotism tests at sporting events.” Hough said he’s been a PSL owner for 17 years.