Three years ago Thursday, then-49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee and launched a movement.
In a tweet, he reflected on the anniversary and his decision to protest social injustices. A video attached to the post includes graphic and disturbing content. Should you be interested, it can be found archived on Kaepernick's Twitter account: @Kaepernick7
"How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates freedom and justice for all and is so unjust for so many of the people living in it?" he asked at the time, against the backdrop of a rash of police shootings of men of color – Cary Ball, Justus Howell, Mike Brown, Nicholas Thomas.
"Here's our love for Tamir Rice," Kaepernick said on the tweet, "who was gunned down by police in two seconds that will not allow us to bury our anger. Here's our love for Philando Castile, who was executed in front of his partner and his daughter that keeps us fighting back. Here's our love for Stephon Clark who was lynched in his grandma's back yard that will not allow us to stop until we liberate our people."
"This stand wasn't for me," Kaepernick told reporters who wondered why he was doing what he was doing. "This is because I'm seeing things happen to people that don't have a voice, people who don't have a platform to talk and have their voices heard and effect change. I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed."
The conversation Kaepernick started in 2016 reverberated through the NFL and then, quickly, through society at large. It became a talking point in our political system up to the highest office in the land. The discourse has been unfailingly passionate, but has rarely been genial.
Three years ago, several NFL players followed Kaepernick's lead in kneeling during the national anthem. Three years later, few demonstrate.
Say what you want about about Kaepernick, he's no poser. His regular season win-loss mark with the 49ers was mediocre (28-30). But he had a 4-2 record in the six playoff games he started. He is the most recent quarterback to direct the team in a Super Bowl. He was making good money.
He has lost all that, trading it for a principle. He left the 49ers after the tumultuous 2016 season. He hasn't been able to get so much as a tryout from another NFL team (though he, and former 49ers teammate Eric Reid, received an undisclosed settlement with the NFL after pursuing a collusion grievance.) And even though he still works out:
He has to know the game is over – but more important work is still to be done.