Colin Kaepernick: The American footballer who confronted racism

July 11, 2022
Colin Kaepernick. Photo: Mike Morbeck/Wikimedia Commons

Kaepernick & America
Documentary film directed by Ross Hockrow and Tommy Walker
In cinemas

American football player Colin Kaepernick became internationally famous due to his role at the centre of a culture war that swept the United States in 2016, the year Donald Trump was elected president.

The spark that set off the inferno was Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem when it was played before games. Not since Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the Olympic medal podium in 1968 had white America had its racial amnesia so confronted.

Kaepernick explained in media conferences that he wanted to start a national conversation about police brutality towards Black people in the US. The response from conservative white people was close to unhinged fury.

Kaepernick & America surveys the American football player's upbringing and stellar career. As a baby, he was adopted by a white family; his birth mother was white, while his father was Black.

As explained in the film, to be “biracial” in the intensely racist atmosphere of the US meant his childhood was difficult.

Having excelled both academically and in sports, Kaepernick moved from being a successful college-level quarterback to leading the San Francisco 49ers to victories, beginning in 2012. He became extremely popular along the way.

The film delves into the near-mystical allure that quarterbacks hold over the American imagination. Turlock, California, the middle-class town where he was raised, led the way in idolising Kaepernick in US-culturally appropriate ways, such as a local fast-food shop creating a special hot dog honouring him.

The social context of his protest actions is shown in sequences of phone video footage of US police officers murdering Black people. The sounds and scenes of the carnage are unimaginably horrific.

Equally horrifying was the white backlash against Kaepernick. Fans turned on him and people filmed themselves burning copies of his team shirt, among other violent demonstrations of hatred. The Turlock hot dog was discontinued.

Through it all, Kaepernick showed depth of character and was precise in explaining why he was kneeling through the anthem.

“There’s people being murdered unjustly and people not being held accountable,” Kaepernick said. “Cops are getting paid leave for killing people. That’s not right.”

Trump publicly demanded that the National Football League fire any player who protested during the playing of the anthem. Kaepernick was released from his contract with the 49ers in 2017 and has not been signed by another club since.

He may have perhaps faded from view over time except for the gruesome murder of George Floyd in 2020. The sight of a racist cop killing a Black man by kneeling on his neck dramatically recalled Kaepernick’s protest.

In Kaepernick & America, many people talk about him and his significance, but Kaepernick himself does not appear except in news footage. It is a measure of his integrity that he has not tried to parley his protest into celebrity status but allows his actions to speak for themselves.

Kaepernick & America portrays a person of courage and commitment while revealing the racist sickness at the heart of US culture.

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