Kaepernick became embroiled in a huge race relations issue when he refused to stand for the national anthem before a preseason game in late August 2016.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said afterward in an interview. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way.” He added that he would continue to sit during the national anthem until seeing “significant change” for minorities.
Over the course of the season, Kaepernick continued to draw attention for his refusal to stand for the anthem, drawing both support and condemnation from fellow NFL players, politicians and celebrities. On the field, he delivered a solid performance, throwing 16 touchdowns against four interceptions and rushing for 468 yards, though the team went just 1-10 during the games he started. At the conclusion of the season, he became a free agent.
Kaepernick remained a man without a team as the 2017 NFL season began. Meanwhile, his own quiet form of protest had expanded into something much larger, with several players on each NFL team making a point of kneeling during the anthem, and athletes from other sports demonstrating their support as well. The issue became a hot-button political topic, with U.S. President Donald Trump weighing in by calling for kneeling NFL players to be fired during a September rally in Alabama.