It’s been two years since Colin Kaepernick played in the NFL, and yet his influence can still be felt in NFL locker rooms.
Kaepernick, a former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, has developed into one of America’s most polarizing athletes the past three years because he juxtaposed social commentary with sports.
Kaepernick’s decision to sit and later kneel during the pregame playing of the national anthem in 2016, which he said was to “protest the injustices that are happening in America, the oppression that is happening in America,” started a league-wide revolution. Since then, countless players have kneeled or raised their fists in solidarity with Kaepernick’s message.
Monday, Nike released its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign with Kaepernick as its star, sparking both admiration and ire on social media.
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And Wednesday, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Devin Funchess weighed in.
Newton said last season he thought the way Kaepernick has been treated was, “unfair,” and when asked his thoughts on the new Nike campaign, Newton doubled down in his support.
“I’ve always respected the man that Colin is,” Newton said. “I have said that since Day 1.”
Funchess, also a Nike sponsor athlete, said he had seen the campaign already.
“I am sponsored by Nike,” Funchess said. “I’ve seen Colin Kaepernick’s ad, I thought his message was in the right direction. I mean, he did lose his job and he stood for something I feel like that he wanted to stand for.”
Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers after that 2016 season and has not been signed by any team since. He has an ongoing greivance filed against the NFL’s owners for colluding against signing him to a contract.
Tuesday, a day after the ad — which features Kaepernick’s face and reads, ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.’ — debuted, the NFL released a statement regarding Kaepernick’s continued message.
“The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding, and unity,” Jocelyn Moore, the league’s president of communications and public affairs, said in the statement. “We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities. The social-justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”
Newton said Kaepernick has his respect.
“At the end of the day, we all are entitled to our own opinion, we all have freedom of speech and we all can believe in anything that we want to believe in,” he said. “So from man to man, I respect the hell out of him. That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say.”