Colin Kaepernick is seen by many white NFL fans as a divisive figure who has stained the game of pro football by injecting it with pregame protests that have spread to players, coaches and celebrities.
But supporters of the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who's widely believed to have sacrificed a paycheck in order to protest police shootings of unarmed black men by taking a knee during the national anthem last season, say he's brought unprecedented and much-needed attention to the issue.
Some local civil rights leaders, who were on the ground floor of national demonstrations against the NFL over Kaepernick's lack of employment this season, have a new goal now that the regular season has started and it doesn't appear the QB will find a team: getting him on the cover of Time magazine as its Person of the Year in December.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, has launched an online campaign to persuade the publication to give Kaepernick the nod for 2017. He says the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network as well as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference are on board with the effort.
“It's the right thing to do,” Hutchinson says. “Trump was Time's 2016 Person of the Year. Wouldn't it be a fitting answer to everything that's gone on since then? Wouldn't it be a fitting answer to name someone who stands for unity and peace?”
Kaepernick's one-man protests inspired NFL commissioner Roger Goodell this season to say he supports the rights of players to express themselves. Last week, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and his entire team took a knee before the pregame national anthem. And on NBC's Saturday Night Live, Jay Z performed while wearing a Kaepernick jersey.
“The bonus is you're getting much of the sports establishment to support him,” Hutchinson says. “You've seen them flip around and say they understand the principle he was standing for. He was an outcast in the beginning. Now it's almost like the mainstream is coming for him.”
He believes a juggernaut for racial justice could be in the making. Local civil rights leaders have been boycotting Rams and Chargers games, and Hutchinson has pressured the teams' front offices on diversity hiring. “Now we're trying to make the signature-gathering campaign go viral,” he says.
He plans to deliver signatures to top Time magazine editors after each week's Monday Night Football game. Hutchison's end-of-the-month goal for endorsements is 10,000 supporters. When Time eventually rolls out its Person of the Year online poll, which isn't binding on the publication's choice, he says he'll ask supporters to write in Kaepernick.
Hutchinson argues that the player fits the bill for Time: He's brought a national spotlight to disproportionate police violence toward African-Americans while remaining peaceful and donating his own cash to charities.
“I can't think of one athlete that's ever made that forthright of a commitment,” he says. “Kaepernick has sacrificed his career. Race and racism is one of the most compelling issues around.”