The first slate of NFL preseason games Thursday demonstrated players’ national anthem protests aren’t going anywhere, and now they’re about more than the reasons Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the 2016 season.
They’re also for Kaepernick himself, explained Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, who was among seven players to protest during the anthem in some form Thursday. Kaepernick and former 49ers teammate and fellow protester Eric Reid both remain free agents despite expressing interest in returning to the NFL.
Kaepernick, San Francisco’s starting quarterback in the 2013 Super Bowl, has been embroiled in a collusion battle with the NFL on the basis of his claim teams are blackballing him from the league. The 30-year-old appeared at a hearing Thursday that could result in the dismissal of his grievance.
“It would take a lot,” Stills said to reporters Friday, when asked what it would take for him to stop kneeling during the anthem this season. “But I think a good first step for us as a league would be acknowledging what they’re doing to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid. You can’t say as a league that you support the players and the protest and then blackball the players that initially started the protest.”
Kaepernick was quick to show his support for Reid’s comments, posting on Twitter a video of Stills’ question-and-answer session and the quote referencing him.
While the NFL rethinks the hotly contested national anthem policy it announced earlier this summer, Stills, teammate Albert Wilson who kneeled with him Thursday and other NFL players will be able to protest on the sidelines without fear of punishment. Players were ordered to stay in the locker room if they wanted to kneel during the anthem, according to the previous policy, which the league put on hold July 20 following a report that Dolphins players could be suspended up to four games for protesting on the field.
Stills said he doesn’t expect the Dolphins, including head coach Adam Gase, to hand down any punishment as he continues to protest on the sideline this season.
“I didn’t talk to him beforehand but afterwards we spoke, and he supports what I’m doing,” Stills said of Gase.
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