When Colin Kaepernick knelt during the National Anthem in 2016 to protest racial injustice and police brutality, the then-49ers’ quarterback was met with tremendous backlash and he has not played in the NFL in three years.
However, in the weeks since George Floyd was murdered at the hands of police officer Derek Chauvin, the conversation has changed and many are realizing that Kaepernick was right to protest and that this country has a tremendous amount of work to do in eradicating racism and social injustice.
On a Zoom conference call, San Francisco 49ers’ cornerback Sherman talked with with media about Black Lives Matter, Kaepernick, tough conversations and ways the NFL can change.
“I can’t predict honestly, because in a time since I’ve been around and I’ve been alive, I don’t remember it being this strong of an impact and it reaching this many people and this many people being upset, emotional about it because the way the world has been, even when in 2016, 2017, when those guys were making it about police brutality and just changing it and inequities that we live in as African Americans, they found a way to dull down that message and to divert it and make it about something else in a way to avoid the conversation…I think this time it’s too full-fledged and most people are actually getting the messaging and seeing it firsthand. Nobody can turn their eyes away.
“Nobody can turn away from what they’re saying and any human with any true empathy in them or for their fellow human being would feel that it’s wrong and that’s why sometimes you sit there and to make the point to people who don’t get it, you have to try to take yourself out of seeing that as a random stranger and see that as one of your own. See that as one of your brothers, your sisters, your cousins, your mom, your dad and then that feeling that evokes should energize you to add yourself to the fight and I think that’s why I think this will last a lot longer and the impact to be greater.”
A Shift in the NFL and Colin Kaepernick
Last week, several NFL players, including Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes and Texans’ QB DesShaun Watson, released a video asking the NFL to voice its support for the protests and the Black Lives Matter movement and to apologize for trying to stop players from protesting in years past.
“A message on behalf of the nfl” pic.twitter.com/iilDpnZfyV
— Michael Thomas (@Cantguardmike) June 5, 2020
The NFL did just that when it released a video of Roger Goodell supporting the players and going as far as to say, “I protest with you.”
It was a step in the right direction, though there has been discussion that the video did not include an apology to Kaepernick, who as mentioned above, still doesn’t have a job in the league.
“…I don’t know and that’s a question that would be up to you asking Roger Goodell or these owners who haven’t employed him. I told you guys this before, we don’t employ people. I can want him to have a job and I can think he deserves a job as much as anybody and everybody said it who said anything because he was a good player. He showed he can play in this league. He can play at the highest level.”
There is a still a lot of work to be done in a league that has only four black head coaches and two black general managers.
“I think having some people of color represented in the general manager space, the front office space, obviously head coaches, that would go a long way. They’ve tried their best to throw money behind it for a long time and it takes more than that. It takes you literally calling out bigotry and being motivated. Not just letting it be a fad and fleeting, it’s being consistent year in and year out that you’re combating this issue and that this is a problem that needs to change and not just this year, not just 2016, 2017, but black lives matter. They have to matter forever. They have to matter every year.”
Team Conversations and Family Conversations
Last week, 49ers’ head coach Kyle Shanahan said that the 49ers had been having team discussions around racial injustice.
“It’s great to just see how much they care, how much Kyle and [General Manager John Lynch] and [EVP of Football Operations Paraag Marathe] and this organization care about these issues and a lot has been made about them throwing money at the issue, but I think there’s a lot more at the foundational level that has been done by not only our coaching staff, but our players, our front office, our ownership to really make a difference and make a change in this world and I think there was growth in that conversation…[A]t the end of the day, I don’t see our team as the issue. Our team is a bunch of guys who come from a ton of different places. We get along very well, who don’t see color lines like that, who don’t treat each other that way and I think at the end of the day it’s about spreading that love and spreading that impact and I think it was powerful.”
When it comes to talking to his children about these issues, who are 5 and 4, Sherman told Fangirl Sports Network, “I have already started to have the conversation.”
Last week, Shanahan said, “One thing that’s tough with my kids is, I think it is so cool watching a human being when they can have a black friend over and a white friend and they don’t know that they had a black friend over and a white friend. They don’t know. It’s not in their consciousness. It hasn’t been taught to them that there’s an issue…But, the stuff right now, I’m worried about our kids. Our kids are already better. Look at the millennials or whatever. They’re so much better than even we were. I don’t want to mess up the younger generation right now because they’re good. We just can’t mess them up and that’s every generation before us has messed up the younger ones. We can get better, but our kids are already good…We just talked for an hour on it, but I like where they’re at and I want to keep that, hopefully, for the rest of their lives.”
Like many of us over the last several months, Sherman has found a way to stay in touch with friends and family, even if it has to be virtual.
“Well, I think staying connected is a big thing, reaching out on a day in and day out basis to different people and obviously video chat is a huge deal. Even though you can’t touch, it’s not tangible, at least you feel like you’re in the same room. You feel like you’re in the same presence as your friends and as your teammates…We have date night every Wednesday night with some of my old teammates and that’s helped, but it’s difficult and I think to acknowledge that is to acknowledge just the human aspect of it and how vulnerable each of us is in that and how sensitive of a subject this is. I think that being vulnerable with each other and having in depth conversations has kept us all sane because we know we’re not in it alone.”
Protests During the Season
The 2020 NFL season is still a few months away, but there has been a lot of discussion about protests on game day, whether it be kneeling or something else, whether it will be players individually or together as a team.
“Well, I mean it is what it is, to each their own. I mean, you try to do things unified as a team and football is the ultimate team sport, but I think there’s a love and appreciation for your teammate and your fellow man that you understand that everybody has their own ways and ways of doing things and ways of coping and ways of, I guess, living and you lead them to that. I can’t tell anybody to talk like I talk, walk like I walk, maneuver like I maneuver or protest how I protest or feel a certain way about a subject that I feel a certain way about unless I have that empathy and I have that connection with them and I think football, there’s a lot of that. People will empathize with one another and have that brotherhood even if they don’t protest the same way.”
You can watch Sherman’s full interview here.