The 52nd Super Bowl kicks off Sunday night in Minneapolis, where usual suspects the New England Patriots will once again go head to head with underdogs the Philadelphia Eagles — a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005, which saw the Patriots squeak out a close victory. While NFL fans are predicting whether New England quarterback Tom Brady will add a sixth championship ring to his collection, some people are wondering whether football player turned activist Colin Kaepernick will be at the Super Bowl. The former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers has become the most talked-about unemployed football player of today.
While nowadays he's more known for his social advocacy than for his plays on the field, some might be wondering if Kaepernick will make an appearance in the stands at Super Bowl 52. Kaepernick has been a free agent since early 2017 after opting out of his contract with the 49ers. But Kaepernick wants to return to playing football and he reportedly expressed his desire to continue his NFL career, according to civil rights activist Shaun King. During his career with the San Francisco 49ers, the then-quarterback helped his team reach the 2013 Super Bowl, which the Atlanta Falcons ended up winning 34-31.
Kaepernick did not sit on the bench or kneel during the national anthem at Super Bowl XLVII, as he would later do for the first time at a 2016 preseason game. His refusal to stand for the anthem, a peaceful protest over police brutality against black Americans, would become the catalyst for further protests by athletes. In a show of solidarity, other football players began taking a knee during the national anthem, an action that ignited pushback from NFL owners against the protest and an angry call from President Donald Trump to fire anyone who "disrespects the flag."
In an interview with NFL Media, Kaepernick said:
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. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
The acts of protest sparked polarizing debates about whether not standing during the national anthem is disrespectful, and whether the NFL, where the majority of players are black and the majority of owners are white, should take a stand on racial injustice. During his time off the field, Kaepernick continued his advocacy work through the Colin Kaepernick Foundation. The foundation has pledged to donate $1 million plus all the proceeds of his jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations working in oppressed communities.
TIME magazine named him runner-up to the 2017 TIME Person of the Year, behind the #MeToo silence breakers. Kaepernick was named GQ's 2017 Citizen of the Year (the magazine cover shows him dressed strikingly in all black and Kaepernick wore only black designers). The athlete also picked up the 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammed Ali Legacy Award.
In an attempt to make peace with its players (and perhaps for cleaning up their public relations), in October, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and NFL owners held a discussion about criminal justice reform and police brutality with the Players Coalition, a group of more than 40 players past and present who are working to support social justice causes. Kaepernick was not invited to the NFL discussion. Afterward the NFL submitted a proposal to the Players Coalition with an offer to donate “nearly $100 million” to “causes considered important to African American communities.”
As for Kaepernick's football career, a recent rumor links the player to the Oakland Raiders. Neither Kaepernick nor the Raiders have addressed the rumor.