Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Arik Armstead respected Colin Kaepernick for ‘putting it all on the line’ during protests

Jun 29, 2020 at 5:48 PM--

Just bringing up Colin Kaepernick's name can still evoke strong emotions from different people. That difference was even more evident in 2016 when the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback started kneeling during the national anthem in protest of social injustice.

A lot has changed since then. The nation has a better understanding of why Kaepernick was so passionate about the cause. It may have taken four years, and some horrific recent events, but the quarterback's message is finally getting through. More people are beginning to understand what he was trying to do back then to spread awareness, and more are now willing to listen.

Kaepernick is still unemployed from football. Although, he remains active in his efforts to bring about awareness of social injustice and is involved with several organizations working to create change. He is even working with Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay on a six-episode series for Netflix titled Colin in Black & White, which is based on his high school life.

Beat writer Matt Barrows wrote an excellent piece for The Athletic that involved conversations with players who were with the 49ers in 2016 — when the protests gained national notoriety. He also spoke with the 49ers' head coach at the time, Chip Kelly.

One of the players who responded was current 49ers defensive lineman Arik Armstead, who remembers seeing Kaepernick in the locker room the day after a snapshot of him sitting during the national anthem before a preseason game made national headlines and prompted debate.

"I saw him early (the next) morning," Armstead told Barrows. "And we were one of the first couple people in the locker room. I told him how much I respected him and appreciate him for putting it all on the line and standing up for people that look like us that don't have a voice or an opportunity to say something."

A few days later, the team came together after that third preseason game, and so many of Kaepernick's teammates had questions. Kelly, who players felt is as patriotic as they come, wanted to give his quarterback a chance to explain what was going through his mind. The coach addressed the team first.

"I couldn't tell you exactly what my words were," Kelly said. "But I know through the whole thing, I felt the one thing that makes this country great is that you're allowed to have a voice."

Kelly says he then left the room and allowed Kaepernick to address his teammates and any concerns they might have. One of the narratives being fabricated across the country was that Kaepernick intended to disrespect the flag, and in doing so, the military, which was never the case. The quarterback even made that clear to his teammates, and to any member of the media willing to listen.

"He also articulated that he was not being disrespectful to the military and that he has military in his family," Armstead said of that team meeting.

"From what I remember, he first said that it has nothing to do with the military or the troops or anything of that nature," added former 49ers defensive lineman Quinton Dial. "He was trying to bring awareness to social injustice and police brutality of African American, Black and Brown people."

Armstead added that the team meeting led to more conversation and a better understanding of why Kaepernick was protesting. Neither Armstead nor the other former teammates interviewed felt the protests were a distraction.

"I think the NFL is a platform," Armstead added. "You know, we're in millions of homes every Sunday. We're in homes every day on ESPN and NFL Network. And so with that, that's a responsibility, not necessarily a distraction or something to shy away from."

Kaepernick's actions were so admired by his teammates, that the quarterback earned the team's most prestigious annual honor, the Len Eshmont Award, which is given each year to the player who best exemplifies the "inspirational and courageous play."

"To gain that much respect, it's not always about football," Armstead said. "And the courage he showed — I think it was admired by his peers. I definitely admired it."

Click here to read Barrows' entire feature, complete with every player's response to his questions, over at The Athletic.

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