Republicans are still running against Colin Kaepernick

One of the candidates who has featured the anti-NFL player message most prominently is Tennessee Congresswoman Diane Black, the front-runner for the Republican nomination in the state’s race for governor. On Super Bowl Sunday, Black aired her own campaign ad in which she stood in front of the camera and said, “It’s too bad the league doesn’t respect the patriotism of our national anthem.” A month later, she followed up by publishing a 700-word op-ed on Outkick the Coverage, a website run by sports talk firebrand and conservative darling Clay Travis, declaring that she would give up her season tickets for the coming season. “It has been something that has been a conversational piece as I travel throughout the state,” Black told me. “People are saying thank you for standing up.”

Black and Rokita have tapped into an emotional and polarizing national argument that began when Kaepernick and other NFL players knelt during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police violence. In September, at a campaign rally for Alabama Senate candidate Luther Strange, Trump famously called the players “sons of bitches,” recasting the protests from an exercise of free speech into an insult to patriotism and disrespect to the military. Republicans took his cue. Last year, Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie sent out a mailer attacking the players. In Alabama, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, called the protests “illegal.”