When Kroger employee 16-year-old Elijah Scott dressed up for the company's "Wear a Football Jersey Day" on Sept. 11, he was just excited to wear something different to work.
Little did the African-American teenager from Ohio realize he was about to spark a national controversy the day he casually chose to wear his new NFL jersey for 49ers player Colin Kaepernick, the New York Daily News reports.
After a customer told Scott's manager he "wasn't going to shop there again" upon seeing the boy's "disrespectful" jersey, the boss sent the teenager home.
Kaepernick has chosen to kneel during the national anthem at this season's NFL games, in protest of the way minorities are treated in the U.S.
When Elijah's mother, Diana Scott, learned what happened, she was outraged and called the manager directly.
"They should've stood up for their employee and just let that customer go," she said. "My son didn't do anything wrong."
When Diana voiced her opinion to Elijah's boss, he disagreed.
"It was September 11th and Elijah was on company time and would not be allowed to disrespect customers," the boss reportedly told Diana.
Since then, many expressed anger, arguing such behavior violated Elijah's right to free speech. Many urged the manager and Kroger corporation to apologize.
"This is outrageous, but not surprising," writes activist and journalist Shaun King. "Elijah’s treatment is similar to what many African-Americans experience in this country on a daily basis."
"Day in and day out, conservatives rave about their constitutional rights, but when African-Americans have those same rights trampled upon, they go silent and seem to not care at all," adds King. "Daily, conservatives go on and on about their right to bear arms, but African-Americans who are seen by police with a weapon, or even a shadow of a weapon, are often shot and killed on contact."
Others stand by the customer and manager's stance.
"Why apologize?" wrote one Facebook user on TMZ's Facebook page. "They were just showing patriotism. Only in 21st century America do you have to apologize for patriotism."
Kroger ended up apologizing, TMZ reports. It is not clear if the manager will be disciplined.
"We are proud and privileged to employ a workforce and to serve a customer base as diverse as America," a Kroger representative said. "We are aware of this situation and have apologized to Elijah and his mother. Diversity, inclusion and respect are among our company’s core values and ones we strive to live up to every day."