SANTA CLARA – If there was any doubt about how Colin Kaepernick’s protest this season was received inside the 49ers’ locker room, that question was answered on Friday.

Kaepernick’s teammates voted him as the winner of the Len Eshmont Award as the 49ers player who best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont. The award is considered the most prestigious team honor on which players vote.

Eshmont was an original member of the 49ers. The team was established in 1946 as part of the All-America Football Conference. Eshmont, who coached at Navy and Virginia following his career in San Francisco, died in 1957. The award was established that year in his honor.

Kaepernick gained national attention with his protest of racial inequality in America. His decision to kneel for the national anthem sparked a national debate. Kaepernick was featured on the cover of TIME magazine in September.

“I think what Kap did will be talked about for years to come – an NFL player using his platform for what he wanted to use it for,” 49ers veteran safety Antoine Bethea said Thursday on the CSN Bay Area's "49ers Insider Podcast."

Bethea added: 

When it first came out, obviously, there were probably some guys straddling the fence or on opposite sides. But at the end of the day, I think we did a good job as a team nipping it in the bud at the beginning. We came together as a team. Kap spoke to the team. He explained why he was doing that. He also explained if anybody didn’t agree or agreed or wanted to come talk to him, feel free to do that. A couple of guys did that. . . As far as the outsiders, of course, they have a lot to say about it. But I think we handled it well as a team.

A lot of times people don’t sit back and try to understand why he did it. Traveling and being on the team, you hear people when is taking a knee during the national anthem. You hear a lot of fans saying some different things. But if they really cared and really sat down and dove into the situation – I’m not going to say everybody would see it – but it’s a really a serious cause. He’s not saying he doesn’t love America. He’s not saying that he doesn’t support the troops. He’s saying, in that song, we’re saying one thing but the actions that are happening in this world are completely different.

 

Teammates Eric Reid and Eli Harold joined Kaepernick in the protest. Kaepernick said it was meaningful to have the support of his teammates.

“It’s very impactful and I think they are people who have very strong character,” Kaepernick said recently. “And to have the ability to really recognize what’s going on, how it not only affects them, but it affects their families and affects other people that look like them is something that’s very powerful and I’m very happy to have teammates like that, that have that type of character, that have those type of ethics and humanity.”

ESHMONT AWARD WINNERS
1957 QB Y.A. Tittle
1958 FB Joe Perry
1959 HB J.D. Smith
1960 S Dave Baker
1961 DT Leo Nomellini
1962 DE Dan Colchico
1963 T Bob St. Clair
1964 DT Charlie Krueger
1965 QB John Brodie
1966 HB John David Crow
1967 LB Dave Wilcox
1968 LB Matt Hazeltine
1969 CB Jimmy Johnson
1970 S Roosevelt Taylor
1971 LB Ed Beard
1972 DE Tommy Hart
1973 S Mel Phillips
1974 T Len Rohde
1975 CB Jimmy Johnson
1976 DE Tommy Hart
1977 S Mel Phillips
1978 RB Paul Hofer
1979 RB Paul Hofer
1980 DT Archie Reese
1981 TE Charle Young
1982 WR Dwight Clark
1983 RB/ST Bill Ring
1984 LB Keena Turner
1985 FB Roger Craig
1986 QB Joe Montana
1987 WR Jerry Rice
1988 NT Michael Carter, RB Roger Craig
1989 QB Joe Montana
1990 DE Kevin Fagan, LB Charles Haley
1991 WR John Taylor
1992 QB Steve Young
1993 WR Jerry Rice
1994 QB Steve Young
1995 FB William Floyd
1996 DT Bryant Young
1997 DT Dana Stubblefield
1998 DT Bryant Young
1999 DT Bryant Young
2000 DT Bryant Young
2001 RB Garrison Hearst
2002 S Tony Parrish
2003 LB Julian Peterson
2004 DT Bryant Young
2005 DT Bryant Young
2006 DT Bryant Young
2007 DT Bryant Young
2008 WR Isaac Bruce
2009 TE Vernon Davis
2010 LB Takeo Spikes
2011 DT Justin Smith
2012 DT Justin Smith
2013 LB NaVorro Bowman
2014 RB Frank Gore
2015 WR Anquan Boldin
2016 QB Colin Kaepernick