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The Kaepernick Effect Is Just Getting Started

Following Colin Kaepernick’s lead, NFL players are rallying against racial injustice

Colin Kaepernick wasn’t promised a posse.

After the San Francisco 49ers quarterback protested racial injustice during national anthems in preseason, league management didn’t exactly condone solidarity. Commissioner Roger Goodell publicly affirmed Kaepernick’s right to free speech, but said he disagreed with the decision to kneel, and urged players to “choose respectful ways” of using their platform. Executives from other teams called Kaepernick a “traitor” whom they wouldn’t sign.

When the regular season kicked off Thursday in Denver, Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall—Kaepernick’s college teammate—kneeled for the anthem. The next day, Marshall’s sponsor Air Academy Federal Credit Union terminated its relationship. (Marshall lost a second sponsorship deal on Monday.)

So it wasn’t all internet outrage and scorched jerseys. Before the weekend even started, this type of protest had consequences, financial and professional. Sunday’s historical significance—the 15th anniversary of 9/11—didn’t help. Professional football players interested in supporting a colleague’s stand against police brutality now faced accusations of disrespecting a national tragedy.

Still, players joined in protest. In Kansas City, Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters raised a gloved right fist. In Seattle, four Dolphins players took a knee. Sunday night in Arizona, the New England Patriots’ Devin McCourty and Martellus Bennett raised fists of their own. And on “Monday Night Football,” Kaepernick and teammate Eric Reid kneeled before the flag, while 49ers linebacker Eli Harold, safety Antoine Bethea, and Rams players Kenny Britt and Robert Quinn stood with fists high.

Activism inherently rustles feathers, but more so when spliced into a billion-dollar entertainment product—and even more so when that product is synonymous with cultural norms. Televised football may be the cultural norm in America, now disrupted by claims that “normal” is broken. Despite the effort in Week 1, grumpy owners and tepid sponsors couldn’t stop players from saying so.

“They say it’s not the time to do this,” Dolphins running back Arian Foster, who kneeled, said after his team’s win. “When is the time?”

According to NFL reporter Robert Klemko, Sunday sparked a group text with over 70 league veterans, discussing that exact question. Next week, the chorus is likely to grow.

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