It looks like veteran San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick might be done with his national anthem protests — now that he’s looking for a new NFL contract.
The controversial player will stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” next season, according to sources who spoke to ESPN Thursday. Kaepernick first made headlines in August 2016 for refusing to stand during his team’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, citing the “oppression” of black people in the United States.
“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 at the time. “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.”
Kaepernick remained seated during the national anthem for every preseason game except one, when he took a knee instead. For the 16 regular-season games, the 49ers quarterback knelt during the anthem.
In the days after Kaepernick’s first protest, fans began burning their 49ers-themed gear. One lifelong San Francisco fan set his Kaepernick jersey up in flames, slamming the athlete for claiming to be “oppressed” when he’s “making $126 million.”
And in September, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that, while the league supports players who “want to see change in society,” the organization believes “very strongly in patriotism.”
“I personally believe very strongly in that,” he said, according to USA Today. “I think it’s important to have respect for our country, for our flag, for the people who make our country better; for law enforcement, and for our military, who are out fighting for our freedoms and our ideals.”
While Kaepernick received kudos from those on the left, many fans — and even NFL insiders — weren’t too fond of the protest, so it’s no surprise he’s changing his ways now that he’s looking for a new job.
According to the ESPN report, Kaepernick “no longer wants his method of protest to detract from the positive change he believes has been created” — a change that comes one day after the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport revealed that the veteran quarterback has decided to opt out of his 49ers contract and is now a free agent.
The player’s new agents, Jeff Nalley and Sean Kiernan, informed 32 teams on Wednesday that he is now available.
#49ers QB Colin Kaepernick's new agents, Jeff Nalley & Sean Kiernan, informed 32 teams yesterday that they rep him and he will be opting out
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) March 1, 2017
Ebenezer Samuel, a sports writer for the New York Daily News, immediately criticized the news in an article published Thursday afternoon, calling Kaepernick a “hypocrite.”
“Meet Colin Kaepernick, who comes off as a hypocrite and pretend protester after spending a half-year playing a part, but is now ready to step down after sparking a movement, proving once again how the pursuit of money can undermine the pursuit of racial justice,” Samuel wrote.
Many of Kaepernick’s teammates approved of his protests last year and at the end of the season, they gave him the Len Eshmont Award, which is the team’s highest in-house honor and goes to the player who “best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team,” according to ESPN.
Kaepernick, for his part, said he remains committed to discussing social inequality and will continue hosting his “Know Your Rights” camps for youth to “raise awareness on higher education, self empowerment and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”