SANTA CLARA –- Leaders at every 49ers position group stood in front of the team Sunday morning during a players-only meeting to discuss Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down during the national anthem.
Many players entered the meeting with an opinion. At least one player’s view changed after hearing directly from Kaepernick about his decision to bring attention to civil rights issues.
“To be honest with you, I took offense to it,” 49ers center Daniel Kilgore said upon learning Kaepernick opted not to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner out of protest for what he sees as injustice for minorities in the United States.
“But after Kap stating his case today, and seeing where he was coming from, I do stand with Kap when he says, ‘Enough is enough against crime and the violence, discrimination and racism.’
“I believe enough is enough. I can see where people would think it’s bad with the national anthem and the military. For me, I’m going to stand there every time. I’m going to think about and honor those who are fighting and those who have fought, my family members, my friends. If Kap decides not to, that’s his decision.”
Multiple players described the meeting as productive and informative.
“I think we had a better understanding of what he’s feeling and what he’s trying to say, and that we can move on and approach this in our own way, but also be knowledgeable and understand where he was coming from,” 49ers tight end Bruce Miller said.
“We’re not always going to agree or disagree, but we’re going to support every guy just the same.”
Kilgore said the session was beneficial for him to gain more perspective on why Kaepernick is choosing his course of action.
“In seeing his point of view, it does help,” Kilgore said. “It clears the air. It was a good meeting. It was a productive meeting. We’re all under the same understanding that he has that right. And for me, personally, I see where Colin was coming from. I don’t agree with him not standing up for the national anthem, but I do respect and acknowledge the fact that he has the right to decide what he wants to do.”
Wide receiver Torrey Smith's eyes are wide open to the issues in the country. While he is outspoken on social media about his thoughts and opinions, he fully understands the divisiveness of Kaepernick’s decision to not acknowledge the national anthem and the American flag.
“When I think of the national anthem, I think of soldiers who passed away for our freedom,” Smith said. “So that (sitting down) is not something I would do. But I understand Kap has absolutely nothing against soldiers.
“I get why people are mad. But I’m not focused on how he did it but the message he’s trying to send is important. We have real issues in society that need to be addressed. That was his way of standing up for it. I respect his right. Again, whether I agree with what he did or not . . . it’s not something I would do.”
Smith said he does not back away from talking about such heavy topics in the locker room. He said he has engaged Kaepernick about discussions about social issues.
“I like to talk about these things because we all come from different types of backgrounds,” Smith said. “A lot of people like to act like racism and things like that don’t exist in society. If you believe that, go look at Kap’s Instagram comments or his Twitter comments. He’s being called the N-word and ‘Go back to your country,’ and ‘You don’t like this, go here.’ If you say things people don’t agree with, that’s just the way it goes, especially in the social media era.”
Smith added, “The bad thing about what Kap did, it might offend some people. The positive is, it has people talking about something.”
Smith is a father to two young sons. He knows he might need to have the same conversation his mother had with him when he was young.
“I didn’t understand why my mom had to talk to me about why some people wouldn’t like me because I’m dark skinned,” he said. “I didn’t understand why she had to talk to me about watching where I’m hanging out late at night because I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn’t understand why she would talk to me in general about how I acted and behaved with police officers, making sure I’m conducting myself the right way, even if I didn’t do anything wrong.
“A lot of people haven’t had to have these conversations with their kids. I’m looking at my son, and I’m scared to death because I do know these issues exist, and that’s something you have to deal with. And people act like they don’t. I know it’s important to talk about it.”
One of the main purposes of the meeting was to make sure the situation has no negative impact on the team. While everyone might have a different opinion, the consensus seemed to be that Kaepernick -– or anyone else –- has the right to show passion for a cause in which he believes.
“We recognize what he did and what he took a stand for,” 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said. “And as human beings, and citizens, he has that right to do so. Everybody’s going to have their opinion, whether you agree or disagree, you have to take note of that’s why America is America. He’s able to do that. He has that right.”
Kaepernick's symbolic and polarizing gesture does not distract from what the 49ers are setting out to accomplish as a team, linebacker NaVorro Bowman said.
“Every guy on this team is entitled to his opinion,” he said. “We’re all grown men. We play the ultimate team sports. And we ask a lot of guys to come together, no matter what their beliefs are, no matter how they were brought up, to have one common goal, and that’s to win football games. Anything outside of that is not really important to the team.”