SAN DIEGO -- It’s been a hot-button topic for almost a week, since San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick chose to sit during the national anthem in a home game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26.
That national storyline made its way to San Diego on the date of the Chargers' 28th annual salute to the military as the 49ers arrived to play the final preseason on Thursday.
Kaepernick chose to kneel instead of sit during the national anthem. He was joined by a teammate, safety Eric Reid, and former Green Beret Nate Boyer stood at his side, hand over his heart, in support of Kaepernick’s decision.
San Diego players also were watching and keenly aware of the situation. All who I talked to supported Kaepernick’s right to do whatever he wants during the national anthem, but players offered differing perspectives on the way Kaepernick generated attention for the issues he has concerns about -- police brutality and racism.
After the game, Kaepernick said he plans to put his stance into action, donating the first $1 million he makes this year to organizations that help communities that are being affected by those issues.
“He has the freedom to do what he wishes during the national anthem,” said Chris Swain, a U.S. Navy officer who scored the first touchdown of the game for the Chargers. “He can sit or stand. There are social issues out there. I choose to stand and pay my respect to the American flag as a member of the armed forces. He can do what he wants. He can sit or stand. That’s his decision.”
“Obviously that’s his choice, whether we like it or not; that’s the sacrifice that the flag was for,” Stuckey said. “It’s an individual choice. To me, I honor it because it’s about the sacrifice of the military. But at the end of the day, it’s his freedom. That’s what they fought for, so we can’t take that away from him.
“Is it really our right to judge it? It is our right to judge it, but is it something that we really need to do? At the end of the day it’s his right, so why make a big deal about it?”
The fact that Kaepernick is protesting at his workplace could be an issue. All NFL teams have game day rules for which they face potential fines if they break them. The NFL is one of the most rigid professional sports leagues in the country, fining players for the length of towels and the color of their shoes.
Last year, the Chargers fined safety Eric Weddle $10,000 for going out to watch his daughter perform at halftime of San Diego’s final home game without notifying anyone with the team.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy said earlier in the week that he was not concerned about players joining Kaepernick’s protest, and all San Diego players stood during the national anthem.
“As you’ve seen in the years that I’ve been here, we’re all up there on the line as a team,” McCoy said. “So that’s what we’ve always done.”
Asked how he would respond if one his players chose to sit or kneel, McCoy said: “We do it a certain way here. And as I mentioned, we’re all up there as a team together.”
Stuckey said Kaepernick’s stance should not affect his standing in the workplace.
“It doesn’t hinder him from working,” Stuckey said. “He proved it on the first drive. He still went out and did his job. If it does become a problem in the workplace, I think that’s when we can judge it at that point. But it’s his freedom and his right. I don’t think it’s a big deal.”
“I support him 100 percent,” Hairston said. “It’s definitely an issue in America that needs a spotlight on it. Any time that anyone makes an effort to do that, I’m 100 percent behind them.”
Although he supports his actions, Hairston said he did not feel compelled to take a similar stand, and that every person has their own way of expressing their views.
Now that Kaepernick has made his stand, Hairston said he must follow that up with actions that affect the change he seeks.
“He has to live his life in a way that continues to show people and give people hope that things can change, and things will change,” Hairston said. “That will entail him doing whatever he feels is necessary as far as affecting policy and the youth.
“I don’t know what his plans are, but I’ll never question if he’s genuine or has a plan, because anyone that brings this situation to light is somebody I can get behind.”