Nearly four years after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality, and three years after he played his final game, the 32-year-old free-agent has earned outspoken support from the new owner of the Detroit Lions.
Sheila Ford Hamp held a Zoom press conference on Tuesday, hours after she was appointed principal owner of the Detroit Lions, in which she voiced her support for Kaepernick should the Lions' general manager Bob Quinn and head coach, Matt Patricia, choose to sign him for the upcoming season.
“If our coaches and our general manager all thought it was a good idea to bring him in, I would completely support that,” Hamp said.
Hamp, who took over ownership from her 94-year-old mother, Martha Firestone Ford, said the decision to step down was her mother's and had nothing to do with health concerns. The tennis champ and Yale grad said that timing played a huge role in the decision as Hamp will have six weeks to “get some mileage” under her belt before training camp opens.
The press conference also revealed that in addition to her support of Kaepernick, Hamp acknowledges the national conversation surrounding racial injustice has shifted following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others in the Black community who have died at the hands of police. She affirms that the team has grown in support of the movement, as well.
“I think understanding is completely different now. I think most people really understand what the kneeling was all about. I know that the commissioner has said — and I completely agree — that we support our players’ right to peaceful protest,” she said. “We support the First Amendment.”
Earlier this month, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees spoke with Yahoo Finance about the possibility that the NFL will see a spike in player protests in the upcoming season. Brees said he would “never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country.” He immediately apologized for his insensitive comments via an Instagram video.
“We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform,” Brees wrote in a follow-up post. “We are at a critical juncture in our nation's history! If not now, then when?”
Vocal support from team ownership, like that from Hamp, is huge for Kaepernick, who was demonized early on by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who quickly and publicly disapproved of the QB's means of protest.
“I support our players when they want to see change in society, and we don’t live in a perfect society,” Goodell told The Associated Press. “On the other hand, we believe very strongly in patriotism in the NFL. I personally believe very strongly in that.”
In 2018, Goodell released a statement in which he announced that “all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the anthem.” Those who did not wish to stand for the anthem would have to stay in the locker room and off the field until the anthem concluded.
Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since Jan. 1, 2017, despite having led the 49ers to a Super Bowl win in 2013 and throwing for 2,241 yards and scoring 16 touchdowns against four interceptions in just 12 games during his final season.
Last year found Kaepernick and fellow teammate Eric Read settling a collusion lawsuit against the league, in which both alleged they had been blacklisted due to the fallout following their decision to protest the national anthem. Kaepernick has been a free agent since opting out of his contract.
Of course, President Donald Trump weighed in on the issue.
If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
...our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2017
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in 2016.
It's unlikely that the Detroit Lions would sign Kaepernick, considering current QB Matthew Stafford, whose 2019 season was cut short by a back injury, remains one of the top passers in the league, and the Lions also signed a solid backup in former Bears, Chiefs, Saints, and Eagles quarterback, Chase Daniels, in March.
While some argue that Hamp's leadership could be more of the same, her stance on bringing social justice issues to the forefront could also bring about positive change for the team whose last NFL championship was in 1957 (in the pre-Super Bowl era), and could set an example to the league at large by not treating Kaepernick like a pariah, regardless of if he is signed to the team or not.
Hamp says she won't be kneeling on the field, but won't stand in the way of those who chose to peacefully protest.
“So I think this is really finally, finally thank goodness gotten national attention that this is a serious problem and we as an organization plan to listen to our players and support them any way we can,” she said.
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