What has Kaepernick’s supposedly empty gesture achieved thus far? It’s inspired football players and other athletes to speak up about race and police violence, and to do so in such a way that reporters, fans, and team owners actually pay attention. According to Robert Klemko, more than 70 NFL players, including Kaepernick, Foster, and Richard Sherman, are in a group text talking about “what Kaep started.” That’s not a gesture. That’s a movement.
The 49ers franchise announced they would donate $1 million to, in the words of the team’s chief executive, Jed York, “the cause of improving racial and economic inequality and fostering communication and collaboration between law enforcement and the communities they serve here in the Bay Area.” Kaepernick has pledged $1 million of his own money to address the same issues. “I have to help these people. I have to help these communities. It’s not right that they’re not put in a position to succeed or given those opportunities to succeed,” he said. That’s a movement with money to back it up.
Just as important, Kaepernick has made his fellow Americans think about what they’re standing for, and why. No NFL player stood for the national anthem until 2009—before then, the players stayed in the locker room as the anthem played. NFL teams got patriotic in recent years because it was good for business. A 2015 congressional report revealed that the Department of Defense had paid $5.4 million to NFL teams between 2011 and 2014 to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies; the National Guard shelled out $6.7 million for similar displays between 2013 and 2015.