Colin Kaepernick — the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who was blackballed by the NFL for taking a knee against police brutality — is making a far-reaching impact on society off the field. Kaepernick, who sparked a protest movement against police violence against Black bodies, has moved the debate forward on racial justice for Black people.
In September of 2016, Kaepernick pledged that he would donate $1 million plus the proceeds of his jersey sales from the 2016 season to organizations that work in oppressed communities — $100,000 a month for 10 months. Most recently, he raised $10,000 per day for 10 days with his #10for10 campaign, with 10 of his friends selecting organizations he should donate to and matching his contribution.
As a part of the NFL player’s campaign, R&B singer Jhené Aiko and Chris Brown each donated $10,000 to the Southern California-based Schools on Wheels, a rolling schoolroom which offers tutorial services to the region’s growing homeless population. Homelessness has increased 23 percent in Los Angeles County in 2017 over the year before, and 20 percent in the city of Los Angeles.
Tennis legend Serena Williams contributed $10,000 to Imagine LA, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to ending the cycle of family homelessness and poverty.
Also accepting the #MillionDollarChallenge is the rapper T.I., who partnered with Kap to donate $20,000 to Trae Tha Truth’s Angel by Nature organization, a “boots on the ground” group that has provided relief to Houston post-Hurricane Harvey.
As part of Kaepernick’s campaign, Snoop Dogg gave $25,000 to Mothers Against Police Brutality, a Dallas-based group formed to unite mothers who have lost their children to police violence. “It’s no secret that Uncle Snoop Dogg has transcended into global mega-stardom and even though he’s busier than ever, our brother still finds time to give back to the Community in so many ways. Like a true OG, Uncle Snoop didn’t even flinch when I reached out to him about being part of my #MillionDollarPledge,” Kaepernick said. “With such an alarmingly disproportionate number of African American and Hispanic men and women killed by police, it’s obvious why Snoop chose this organization. Thank you, Uncle Snoop for everything that you have done, and have yet to do, in entertainment as well as the community. Much continued success to you my brother.”
Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors donated $10,000 to United Playaz, a violence prevention and youth development organization based in San Francisco. The organization provides vulnerable young people ”higher education, employment, and healthy living within a safe, nurturing, and collaborative environment.” Curry’s Warriors teammate Kevin Durant contributed to Silicon Valley De-Bug, a San Jose organization that uses storytelling and media creation to promote social justice.
Actor Jesse Williams gave $10,000 to Advancement Project, a “next generation, multi-racial” civil rights organization committed to dismantling and reforming “the unjust and inequitable policies that undermine the promise of democracy through the development of community-based solutions to racial justice issues.”
Nick Cannon and Joey Badass joined Kaepernick in donating $40,000 to Communities United for Police Reform, a New York-based campaign by members of the community, lawyers, researchers and activists to end discriminatory policing practices.
As the sidelined NFL player is taking a stand for social justice and putting his money where his mouth is, the NFL’s own “Let’s Listen Together” campaign — highlighting the league’s $89 million commitment to social justice and equality — has lost its luster. “The campaign will highlight the NFL’s commitment with TV spots, digital content and social media engagement. Hopefully, this will educate the masses, creating some sensitivity for those who need it and spark change,” wrote Jarrett Bell in USA Today. “But it also has the feel of top-shelf marketing and PR spin, with Kaepernick’s original message hijacked as part of an NFL crisis management strategy in the face of backlash from those who could care less.”
Meanwhile, a coalition of players who were handpicked by the NFL as a “safe” alternative to Kaepernick has splintered, as Howard Bryant of ESPN noted. Bryant wrote that the coalition was insulted by accusations it had sold out, and “the league had lured them with promises of social commitment and big money to cover for the real purpose of sabotaging their movement and ending the protests.” The failure of the NFL to sign Kaepernick is a scandal, claims Dave Zirin of The Nation, arguing that despite the self-promoted image of the league as a meritocracy, billion-dollar teams chose to fail rather than sign the athlete-activist this season.
Although he was blackballed and did not even play this past season, Kaepernick was named a finalist in the NFL Players Association’s Byron “Whizzer” White Community MVP award, along with Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long, Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller and defensive lineman J.J. Watt of the Houston Texans. The winner of the award, which honors contributions to the community, will be announced Feb. 1 at the NFLPA’s Super Bowl news conference. The NFLPA will donate $100,000 to the winner’s favorite charity or his foundation, with the other finalists receiving $10,000 apiece. The award honors players for their contribution to the community and recognizes a player each week over the season. After the winner is chosen, the NFLPA will donate $100,000 to that player’s foundation or a charity of choice. The other four finalists receive $10,000 each for their charities or foundations.
The impact of Kap’s contribution to social justice was reflected in a recent cover of the New Yorker magazine, which depicted a kneeling Martin Luther King flanked by Kap and Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks.
In October, Kaepernick filed a right-to-work lawsuit against the NFL for collusion. Proceedings in the case began in early January. Kaepernick alleges the NFL conspired to keep him off the field — which is barred in the collective bargaining agreement — blackballing him for his political stance against the treatment of Black people at the hands of law enforcement. He points to the fact that there are 64 quarterback slots in the league, and several with lesser ability have been signed since he became a free agent. Kaepernick must prove the teams colluded, and many legal experts agree he was singled out for his politics, as Axios reported.
Colin Kaepernick currently ranks as the second most popular NFL player after Tom Brady, even while he is not currently playing for a team. His story is not done, but it is clear the athlete and activist already have left an indelible mark on the Black community, backing up his words with action, and challenging others to step up and contribute.