49ers safety Eric Reid kneels beside Colin Kaepernick for national anthem
SAN DIEGO — While a naval officer sang the first notes of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and dozens of military members unfurled an oversized flag on the football field, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid dropped to one knee on the San Francisco 49ers' sideline.
With his silent gestures of protest, Kaepernick intends to keep drawing attention to a litany of American problems — and he's no longer alone.
Kaepernick and Reid kneeled during the national anthem Thursday before the 49ers' 31-21 preseason victory over San Diego, ignoring scattered boos and angry shouts in Qualcomm Stadium at the Chargers' Salute to the Military preseason game.
Up north in Oakland, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane showed his support for Kaepernick by sitting on the bench during the anthem.
"I'm not anti-American. I love America," said Kaepernick, who stayed on the field long after the game to sign autographs for enthusiastic fans. "I love people. That's why I'm doing this. I want to help make America better, and I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from."
Kaepernick's protest has dominated the public discussion of the nation's most popular sport this week, and his stance has been met with passionate condemnation and support. His refusal to stand for the anthem first came to public notice last week when he remained seated on the 49ers' bench before a preseason game against Green Bay.
The quarterback cited numerous reasons for his actions, ranging from racial injustice and minority oppression to police brutality and the treatment of military veterans.
Kaepernick said he plans to continue his protests during the regular season. He also intends to donate $1 million "to different organizations to help these communities and help these people," declining to provide specifics.
"The message is that we have a lot of issues in this country that we need to deal with," Kaepernick said. "We have a lot of people that are oppressed. We have a lot of people that aren't treated equally, that aren't given equal opportunities. Police brutality is a huge thing that needs to be addressed. There are a lot of issues that need to be talked about."
Kaepernick wasn't earnestly booed in San Diego until he took the field to start the game for the 49ers, immediately leading them on a 16-play, 85-yard touchdown drive against the hometown team. Amid his burgeoning social activism, he is also fighting for a roster spot and attempting to regain the starting job that he lost last season.
When Kaepernick left the field following pregame warmups, he was greeted with profanity and obscene gestures from Leo Uzcategui, a 20-year Navy veteran in a military-green Chargers jersey with quarterback Philip Rivers' No. 17 in camouflage numbering.
"I was in the Navy and I saw men and women bleed and die for this flag," Uzcategui said. "If he wants to do something, go to some outreach program where he can do some good. And I get it, his First Amendment right. But you don't sit during the presenting of the colors, and you don't sit during the national anthem. That is not the way to do it."
A sign in the crowd read: "You're an American. Act like one."
But Domenique Banks, a 23-year-old fan from nearby Oceanside, California, got the quarterback to sign his Kaepernick jersey before the game.