Since he entered the National Football League in 2011, Colin Kaepernick cannot escape the press. The once prosperous quarterback has found himself in the middle of a controversy that he cannot shake, becoming the center of not only a personal struggle but a national conversation.
The Controversial Star
Since the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick has become one of the most talked about names in sports. By taking a divisive “stand,” he has challenged those calling for him to “stick to sports” and put himself in a professional dilemma. This is his story.
A Family In Shambles
Before he began slinging touchdowns, Colin Kaepernick was just a young, midwest-born boy in need of a good home. He was born on November 3, 1987, to Heidi Russo in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Russo was only 19 at the time and could not handle the responsibilities of raising Colin. His birth father, an African American man, left his mother, a white woman before she gave birth. Understanding that she could not take care of Colin alone, she put him up for adoption.
Finding A New Home
With his mother unable to care for him, baby Colin was adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick. Russo had met the Kaepernicks through a mutual friend and decided they were perfect for him. Colin joined the couple as their youngest of three children. In addition to his new brother Kyle and sister Devon, Colin’s new parents welcomed him into their home after seeing two other sons die of heart defects. They badly wanted another boy to enter their family and Colin was the perfect addition.
For the first four years of his life, Colin and his adoptive family lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. Eventually, the traded in their parkas and cheeseheads for flip-flops and sunshine and moved to California. The jump to California allowed Colin to explore his athletic ability all year round. By the time that he was eight years old, Colin had begun to play youth football. It was evident early on that sports were in his future.
As Colin was half black and his family was white, they would frequently receive extended stares and comments of curiosity from both friends and strangers. Colin’s classmates would frequently ponder how Teresa and Rick could be his parents. In 2010, Teresa told the New York Times, “We’ve always been really open about the adoption, and we were always very open about the skin color. We pointed it out as a positive, and he saw his difference and was comfortable with it.”
Who’s Child Is This?
In a 2015 interview with The Journal, Colin told of this awkwardness. “We used to go on these summer driving vacations and stay at motels. And every year, in the lobby of every motel, the same thing always happened, and it only got worse as I got older and taller. It didn’t matter how close I stood to my family, somebody would walk up to me, a real nervous manager, and say: ‘Excuse me. Is there something I can help you with?'”
Look Into My Father’s Eyes
While the public seemed confused by his racial and family background, Colin looked to his dad to give him strength in these situations. “My dad, being a businessman, constantly talked to me about carrying myself in a certain way and treating people with respect. And I think that’s something that’s carried over throughout my life. It’s how I deal with certain situations.” This lesson would greatly impact the way he sees the world and how he responds to it.
Football Takes Over His Life
At age eight Colin began playing youth football, beginning as a defensive end and a punter. Coaches quickly realized that he had a ridiculously strong arm and needed to move him to quarterback. The next year, he became his team’s starting quarterback. He quickly proved that his coaches made the right choice – he completed his first pass for an impressively long touchdown. Colin was hooked on football, and it soon became his life.
Predicting The Future
Colin appeared to have a bit of a clairvoyant side to him. When he was in fourth grade, he wrote a letter in which he described his life goals. It read, “I hope I go to a good college in football then go to the pros and play on the Niners or the Packers, even if they aren’t good in seven years.” Little did he know that he was poised to affect both of his favorite teams.
A High School Stud
Colin thrived in high school, both athletically and academically. In class, he showed off his smarts and maintained a 4.1-grade point average. On the field, Colin trounced his opponents. His athleticism and strong arm led him to receive a collection of awards. He was named first-team All-District, All-Conference, and All-Academic as well for his combination of smarts and skill. Colin led John H. Pitman High School to its first-ever playoff victory as a senior, earning MVP honors for the season.
Colin would eventually become the professional football player we know but was not always convinced that football was his chosen path. In addition to football, Kaepernick was a stellar basketball and baseball player. He was a solid high school basketball player, averaging over 15 points per game as a senior, but baseball was his other love. In fact, he was so good at all three sports that he earned All-State selections for each one. Talk about a gifted athlete!
The College Football Waiting Game
Although Colin was a decorated high school football, Division 1-A football schools did not show much interest in him. He received a few top scholarship offers for baseball but was committed to playing college football. Coaches were impressed with his athleticism and arm strength but were wary of his poor throwing mechanics and thin frame (he was 6’5″ and only 170 pounds). Due to his quick feet, Colin loved to run, but coaches tried to keep him from running to avoid injury.
It Only Takes One
Colin’s high school coach put together a highlight video which his brother distributed to a hundred schools. Still, he could not earn a scholarship offer. University of Nevada coach Chris Ault was familiar with Colin from watching tape of his team but had never come for a visit. Ault decided to offer Colin a scholarship after an assistant coach watched Colin takeover a basketball game in which he had a severe fever.
College Football Here I Come
In 2006, Colin Kaepernick signed his name on the dotted line to become part of the University of Nevada Wolf Pack. His coaches were still nervous that he would choose to play baseball instead, but got the player that they had hoped for. Colin redshirted in 2006 and started the 2007 season as the backup quarterback. He got his chance when the starting quarterback got injured. Colin finished the game with 384 yards passing and four touchdowns. He would never sit out another game.
A Colossal College Career
Just as he had in high school, Kaepernick had a wildly successful college football career. During his sophomore year, he became just the fifth player to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. He would repeat the feat in his junior and senior seasons. For his efforts, he won Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year in both 2008 and 2010. After graduating in December 2010, only one thing stood between him and his NFL dream – the NFL Draft.
A Dream Come True
Before the draft, NFL coaches had the same reservations with selecting Colin as college coaches did during his recruitment. They felt his throwing accuracy, and poor mechanics could not be hidden as well at the highest level. One team decided not only were they willing to overlook his shortcomings but they knew he was their guy. The San Francisco 49ers traded three draft picks to move up nine spots to select Colin with the 36th overall pick. Colin was coming home.
During his rookie season, Colin struggled to see the field behind starter Alex Smith. The following year, he began to see the field as part of the “wildcat” package which emphasized run and pass options. On November 19, 2012, Colin made his first NFL start after Smith was ruled out with a concussion. Kaepernick played quite well, throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns in a 32-7 win. He played well enough to force coach Jim Harbaugh to choose between him and Smith as the next week’s starter.
It did not take long for Kaepernick to cause his first controversy in the NFL. After his first game, Coach Harbaugh said,”Usually tend to go with the guy who’s got the hot hand, and we’ve got two quarterbacks that have got a hot hand.” Smith was cleared to play and was in the middle of arguably his best year as a pro. Harbaugh chose not to rush him back from his concussion and gave Colin another shot to start. Smith would never start another game for the Niners.
As his celebrity grew, fans became more interested in the ink covering both of his arms. Colin grew up in a home where faith was very important and he made sure to pay homage to that upbringing with his tattoos. Each tattoo has a profound meaning. On his right arm, he has a scroll with the bible verse Psalm 18:39. Psalm 27:3 is written on his left arm. Across his chest, Colin has a tattoo which reads “Against All Odds,” mirroring his rise through adversity.
Kaepernick fever had swept through the NFL. His exciting play style became must-see-tv. During a game against the Dolphins on December 9, 2012, Colin ran for a touchdown, and his celebration became the talk of the town. After scoring, Colin flexed his right bicep and pretended to kiss his tatted arm. Soon, Niners fans from all over were posting photos of themselves ‘Kaepernicking.’ In one funny post, a man posted an ultrasound photo of his unborn child ‘Kaepernicking’ from inside the womb.
With the regular season behind him, Kaepernick prepared for his first postseason start. The Niners were matched up with the Green Bay Packers, putting Colin’s favorite childhood teams in a single elimination battle. Kaepernick had arguably his best game as a professional. He torched the Packers defense for 444 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in the 45-31 victory. He broke the NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 181 and broke the Niners team rushing record for any position.
So Close Yet So Far
After his historic performance, Kaepernick followed the Packers win with a victory over the Atlanta Falcons to reach the Super Bowl versus the Baltimore Ravens. Colin played very well, throwing for over 300 yards and a touchdown and rushing for over 60 yards and a touchdown. However, the Ravens took the lead early and never let it go. Colin and the Niners could not recover amidst a stadium blackout, a tenacious Ravens defense and quarterback Joe Flacco’s hot hand.
The next season, Colin came out strong. He opened the season against the Packers, this time flashing his arm on his way to a career-high 412 passing yards and three touchdowns. Colin hoped for another chance at the Super Bowl but would see the Niners fall one round shy in the NFC Championship game. Colin rushed for 130 yards, giving the Niners the lead into the fourth quarter. However, costly turnovers flipped the script. Colin threw an interception with 22 seconds left, sealing their fate.
Bringing In The Big Bucks
The 49ers were grateful that Colin could help bring them so close to a championship. His inspiring and exciting play had brought a level of fan engagement that the team had not seen in years. For such a storied franchise, losing was unacceptable. Colin helped make the 49ers winners again. Before the 2014 season, they rewarded him with a huge contract worth $126 million over six years. He was fully guaranteed $13 million with another $54 million partially guaranteed. He had reached the top.
The Beginning Of The End
Only two years after his massive contract, Colin found himself in a hole. Between a shoulder injury which required season-ending surgery and general ineffective play, Kaepernick found himself on the bench behind backup Blaine Gabbert. He was also fined $10,000 for wearing Beats headphones during a press conference (Bose is an NFL sponsor). His contract was restructured into a two-year deal with a player option after his trade request was denied.
When Taking A Knee Means Taking A Stand
After sitting out the first two preseason games, Kaepernick caused a stir when he chose to sit on the bench during the national anthem. It went reasonably unnoticed during the game. He said afterward, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.”
Expanding On His Protest
He continued, “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up.” Before the first game, Colin took a knee on the field, furthering the controversy.
Colin’s silent protest rapidly became a national story. Many felt that he should stick to football and that he was disrespecting the flag and those that fight for our freedom. Others applauded him for using his platform to give a voice to the voiceless. Throughout the league, some players began kneeling or raising a fist in solidarity with Colin. Even Megan Rapinoe, a member of the US Women’s National Soccer Team, a white woman, dropped to a knee during the National Anthem.
After the 2016 season, Colin opted out of his contract. Even with many teams needing a quarterback, he has still not signed with a team. Many believe the league has blackballed him for his views, fearing a negative fan reaction and public relations nightmare with him in uniform. He has the attention of every American, including President Trump who urged NFL owners to “Get that son of a b***h off the field right now, he’s fired!”
Colin’s Mom Fights Back
The President’s comments gave new life to Colin’s National Anthem protest. Everyone had an opinion on the issue, and Teresa Kaepernick was not going to stand idly by as her son was dragged through the mud. In response to reporter’s tweet detailing the President’s comments, Teresa replied, “Guess that makes me a proud b***h!” She has spoken to the media numerous times about how proud she is that he “is putting his entire future and possibly his life on the line for those beliefs.”
The League Carries On His Message
During week 3 of the 2017 NFL season, with Colin still without a job, many of his colleagues participated in coordinated moments of protest and unity. Over 200 players kneeled or sat during the anthem. Some teams stayed in the locker room during the anthem. Those who did stand linked arms as a symbol of togetherness. Colin might not see the field anytime soon, but his peers helped continue to force the awkward conversation which he breached and might have cost him his career.