SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has heard from many people in many walks of life since he began his protest of racial oppression and inequality in the United States.
Nate Boyer, Johnny Jones, Dr. Harry Edwards and a number of athletes around the country have reached out. Kaepernick recently had another meaningful conversation with a white NFL player who spoke out on the issues at hand: New England Patriots defensive end Chris Long.
Long recently appeared on ESPN Radio's Russillo & Kanell and took a few minutes to offer his perspective on Kaepernick's protest and the ensuing reaction.
Asked if it would be meaningful to him to have a white player kneel during the anthem, Kaepernick pointed to Long's thoughts as helpful to the cause.
"I saw Chris Long spoke out about it, but no one wants to talk about what he said and him bringing that to the forefront and speaking out against it," Kaepernick said. "That’s where it gets very touchy because a white player standing up for this is like 'OK, now we really have to address it, it isn't just black people speaking out because they feel like they're being attacked.' No, it’s a real issue. And it’s disproportionately an issue to people of color. I think it was huge that Chris stood up and took that stand. I don't know if he realizes how much that means to this movement and trying to get things changed."
Long, who played for the St. Louis version of the Rams for five years opposite Kaepernick with the 49ers, said on the show that he'd had a lot of thoughts on the issue but wasn't sure he wanted to address it for fear of being taken out of context.
"I'll make it pretty clear: I support my peers in exercising their right to protest," Long said. "This is a wonderful country, and I think everyone agrees on that, but there are things in our country that can improve. I don't think that by acknowledging, as a white male, that America isn't the same for me, maybe, as it is for everybody, the same great place, that we're complicit in the problem, or that we're saying America isn't a great place.
"If we're saying there are incidents of oppression in this country, systematically or individually in this country, I don't think saying, 'Well, in country X, Y or Z it's 10 times worse' is making things any better. I think that may be true, but why can't we improve?
"I play in a league that's 70 percent black, and my peers, guys I come to work with, guys I respect who are very socially aware and are intellectual guys, if they identify something that they think is worth putting their reputations on the line, creating controversy, I'm going to listen to those guys.
"And I respect the anthem. I would never kneel for it. We all come from different walks of life and think differently about the anthem and the flag and what that means. But I think you can respect and find a lot of truth in what these guys are talking about, and not kneel. Those aren't mutually exclusive ideas.
"Listen, it's been complicated. It's brought out a lot of what we as fans and players think about the anthem; a lot of strong feelings on both sides. But I think we can all agree we love our vets. We love the vast majority of officers of law enforcement. But they are human beings too, and there are isolated incidents that need to be better, and I think all guys are saying is, 'Listen, most people might be great cops, great people that protect our communities, but when there are injustices, let's find justice for those situations.'
"I respect my peers. I respect Colin. Colin has really put his reputation on the line. He's taken a beating. He's also had support. I don't think he did it for publicity."
Kaepernick said he and Long had a brief conversation recently after Kaepernick became aware of what Long had to say.
"We just had a conversation about what the current state of things are and what's going on, what's happening, and ultimately, he made a decision that he wanted to talk about this," Kaepernick said. "It was important to him because he plays with players whose families go through this and experience this and players that have dealt with it in the NFL."