At the start of the Aug. 26 game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem as a symbolic protest.
NFL executives say his career is likely over, according to the Daily Mail.
His act of dissent has unleashed a torrent of hatred and invective toward him, including from top executives at the NFL who choose to remain anonymous, reports the Daily Mail. The reactions from the unnamed executives range from calling Kaepernick a traitor, to simply dismissing him with the statement, “F**k that guy.”
Kaepernick is not the first prominent athlete to publicly object to the National Anthem.
Jackie Robinson, one of the most important figures in the history of professional sports, once said: "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag. I know that I am a black man in a white world."
Kaepernick is not the first NFL star to protest the national anthem. In the early 1970s, Dallas Cowboys star running back Duane Thomas had a tendency to walk around during the song while all the other players lined up on the sideline and faced the flag, helmets tucked under their arms. “During the playing of the National Anthem, he walked around like a man lost on the moon,” wrote the Texas Monthly at the time.
He did the same thing after being traded to the Washington Redskins. Although he was widely criticized for it and heckled by fans, patriotic Redskins coach George Allen seemed to take it in stride.
“I honestly don’t know how he feels about the National Anthem,” he told The Washington Post. “I sing the National Anthem myself. There will be no problem on the National Anthem. Usually, we do stand at attention. It’s no big deal.”
But perhaps the most explicit protest against the song by an athlete happened in 2003, when Toni Smith, a player on the Manhattanville College women’s basketball team, turned her back on the flag during the national anthem.
Her action resulted in threats of violence and 2 million hits on the school’s website, reports sportswriter Dave Zirin on his Edge of Sports blog.
Smith justified her protest with the following statement: “I’m from a mixed racial and ethnic background. My mom is Jewish, and my dad is black, white and Cherokee. I was learning about the prison industrial complex and the wars against Native Americans ... This flag represents the slaughter of our ancestors.”
"The Star-Spangled Banner” was written in 1814, but the U.S. Congress did not adopt it as the nation's official anthem until 1931, reports ESPN. In addition to its well-known lyrics glorifying war, its third verse also refers to slavery in a positive light, as quoted by CNN:
"No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave."