How ‘The Kaepernick Effect’ has propelled a new generation of athletes to take a stand against racial injustice

Analysis by Brandon Tensley,

At the end of the first episode of “Colin in Black & White,” Ava DuVernay and Colin Kaepernick’s six-part Netflix docudrama about the former 49er quarterback’s adolescence and rise to fame, Kaepernick doesn’t just summarize his evolution from self-effacing high schooler to political activist — he also nods to his own power.” I didn’t have the knowledge, wisdom or language to fight back. I couldn’t rebel because I didn’t know how. But now? Now, I know how. And I will,” he says in the series, which arrives on Friday.

Of course, Kaepernick has done more than merely rebel. He’s expanded the scope of protest.

By the start of the 2016 NFL season, Kaepernick had captured the country’s attention by kneeling during the national anthem to point up police brutality and the impunity often enjoyed by the officers who inflict that violence.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” he told the NFL Network’s Steve Wyche. “To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The reactions came swiftly. On the right, Kaepernick’s kneeling sparked visceral anger. Detractors seethed; they misrepresented the football player’s defiance, viewing it as an affront to some gauzy notion of patriotism. Meanwhile, for those sympathetic to Kaepernick’s mission, taking a knee offered a blueprint for how to protest.

Five years on, athletes in the NFL and beyond still reproduce Kaepernick’s gesture, summoning it to oppose the structural forces that imperil so many people’s lives. The journalist Dave Zirin refers to what’s become a mass political movement as “The Kaepernick Effect.””‘The Kaepernick Effect’ was not the result of someone else’s protest, but a cause, a catalyst for something far greater,” Zirin explains in his riveting new book, “The Kaepernick Effect: Taking a Knee, Changing the World.” “It was the warning for a future that came to pass after the police murder of George Floyd, coming on the heels of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. It was the warning that people were poised and ready to fight.”I spoke with Zirin about how Kaepernick’s kneeling both fits into and stands apart from a storied tradition of athlete activism, and how recent revelations about the deposed Raiders coach Jon Gruden only prove the importance of the football player’s message.