The storm over onetime San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick struck in Culver City last night as a small group of demonstrators parked themselves outside the NFL Network's offices there.
The local chapter of Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network, unhappy with what they see as Kaepernick's blacklisting over his refusal last season to participate in "The Star Spangled Banner" and national anthem pregame rituals, launched a local boycott of Rams and Chargers games that has fed into a nationwide wave of action against the league.
Kaepernick took a knee last season in order to protest police shootings of unarmed black men. This year, demonstrators say, he's remained a free agent, despite a more-than-qualified record and a Super Bowl appearance, because of his stance. The situation has put the NFL in a tough spot. Some point to an exodus of some white fans unhappy with what they see as his disrespect for the American flag. This season, some African-America fans are staying home and even some white players are taking Kaepernick's defiant stance during games.
At the demonstration last night, participants were giddy over news that a game-worn jersey, shoes and other Kaepernick items would be displayed in the Smithsonian as part of its Black Lives Matter exhibit.
"He made the ultimate sacrifice" — his job, says the National Action Network's Jonathan James Barnes, a chaplain who stood outside the NFL Network offices. "This protest isn't just about Colin. It's the reason behind what he did. One man can change the world."
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Najee Ali, local political director of the National Action Network, said demonstrators will be back outside the Rams game against the Chargers Saturday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. "We don't expect Kaepernick to be signed," he says. "If it was going to happen, it would have been done by now."
But he said the boycott that started as an ultimatum to the NFL to find a place for the quarterback has expanded as an opportunity to highlight alleged police brutality. "This has a lot of momentum now," Ali says. "We can't give our money to any businesses that don't support black and brown lives and our issues."
When we emailed Todd Boyd, a renowned race and popular culture scholar at USC, about the Kaepernick-inspired boycott recently, here's part of what he said:
"I think some teams are using disgruntled fan reaction as a way of covering up the fact that they don't like Kaepernick taking a political stand on the league's time. Teams don't usually outsource their personnel decisions to the fans, though. The fans don't get to decide whether to sign or cut a player. There are always going to be players who are liked or disliked by the fans for a variety of reasons, but pursuing the popular consensus of the fans is not how you run an NFL team. So to say that the fans are the reason why he's not signed is really weak. If these teams can use the letters from a few angry fans to avoid having to admit that they are blackballing someone from the league because of his politics, then so be it. I also think that the present political moment, when things have taken such a conservative turn, has given teams the cover to keep Kaepernick off of the roster, knowing that actions like this will be supported by those in power at the highest levels."