- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2019

Colin Kaepernick is encouraging players to keep kneeling despite the league’s numerous social-justice initiatives, fueling debate over whether the protests have become less about oppression and more about getting the multimillionaire quarterback an NFL job.

Kaepernick tweeted a shout-out Sunday to NFL players Eric Reid, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson, who have continued to take a knee on the sideline during the national anthem, saying that they “continue to fight for the people.”

“My Brothers … continue to fight for the people, even in the face of death threats,” tweeted Kaepernick. “They have never moved past the people and continue to put their beliefs into action. Stay strong Brothers!!!”

Given the NFL’s recent high-profile work on social-justice issues, from last year’s launch of an $89 million, seven-year initiative to last week’s partnership with Roc Nation on strengthening bonds with minority communities, some have asked: What’s the point of the kneeling?

“I think right now a legitimate question could be asked, Eric Reid, why are you protesting?” ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said. “Before initially with Colin Kaepernick, it was racial oppression, racial inequality and brutality on the part of police officers against unarmed black men. That’s what it was about.”

No longer.

“Now, it appears to be as if your protests are about Colin Kaepernick and the fact that he does not have a job,” Smith said on Monday’s “First Take.”

Kaepernick supporters erupted last week over the Roc Nation partnership, accusing CEO Jay-Z of seeking to profit off Kaepernick’s sacrifice, while the rap mogul described the agreement as the next step in fighting injustice, saying, “I think we’ve moved past kneeling.”

“The kneeling was not about a job,” Jay-Z said at a press conference. “It was about injustice. Let me bring attention to injustice. Everyone’s saying, how are you going forward with Kap doesn’t have a job? This wasn’t about him having a job. That became part of the discussion. He was kneeling to bring attention to injustice.”

Reid, who plays safety for the Carolina Panthers, tweeted that advancing social justice and getting Kaepernick back in an NFL uniform “aren’t mutually exclusive. They can both happen at the same time!”

He and others have accused Jay-Z of providing cover for the NFL owners who don’t want Kaepernick back in the league.

“The NFL is hiding behind this black face, right?” Reid told the Raleigh News & Observer. “The injustice that’s happened to Colin, they get to say, ‘Look, we care about social justice. We care about the black community because we’re with Jay-Z.’ Jay-Z is doing the work for them.”

Sportswriter Jemele Hill said in The Atlantic that the “alliance plays right into the NFL’s hands.”

“It doesn’t matter whom the NFL partners with, or how much money it pours into social-justice causes,” she said. “The league’s actions come off as disingenuous because Kaepernick remains unemployed as a result of a peaceful protest. How can the NFL be taken seriously as a social-justice champion when it blackballed a player who stood up for equality?”

Kaepernick has not played since opting out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in March 2017, and clearly he wants back in. He posted a video last week showing him working out on a football field along with a countdown of the days since he last played during the 2016 NFL regular season.

Even after the fan uproar, however, Kaepernick had his chances to play — and he apparently torpedoed them.

Former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Lewis said the team was interested in signing Kaepernick in 2017 until his girlfriend Nessa Diab tweeted a photo of Lewis as the loyal house slave in “Django Unchained.” Any interest from the Miami Dolphins evaporated after Kaepernick appeared in a pro-Fidel Castro T-shirt.

The Seattle Seahawks expressed interest in 2018, but reportedly wanted Kaepernick to ensure that he would stop his on-field protest. The Denver Broncos made Kaepernick an offer in 2016, before the protests began, but general manager John Elway said the quarterback rejected it.

In February, Kaepernick settled his grievance alleging that NFL owners colluded to keep him out of the league. He and Reid reportedly agreeing to a confidential settlement of less than $10 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The NFL saw television ratings decline during the take-a-knee protests, which peaked in September 2017 after President Trump suggested that owners should fire players who refuse to stand during the national anthem.

Nike released a major ad campaign featuring Kaepernick at the start of the 2018 regular season, but after that the issue received little attention, with only the three players — Reid, Stills and Wilson — kneeling on a regular basis. A few others raised fists.

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