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Taking the knee

In 2016, instead of standing to attention as was customary, San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat out the national anthem during the club’s third preseason match.

At the post-match press conference, Kaepernick said: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder".

In his next game, and after having had a conversation with former NFL player and U.S. military veteran Nate Boyer, he went down on one knee during the anthem to show more respect to former and current U.S. military members while still making his statement against racism.

Kaepernick went on to take the knee at every other game that season.

His action was met by fierce opposition, not least from Donald Trump, who called on NFL clubs to sack any stars who took the knee.

With TV audiences on the slide, with 30% saying they had been influenced to stop watching in opposition to the ‘take the knee’ protests, commercial pressure appeared to succeed and Kaepernick was released by his club (the club and Kaepernick later reached an out of court settlement).

In 2018, Nike released an advertisement featuring Kaepernick with the line:

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Take the knee protests received renewed energy in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer. While Trump and his supporters still riled against it, many other sports stars decided to honour and carry out similar actions.

Taking the knee has now spread internationally, with footballers, Formula 1 drivers and cricketers all following Kaepernick’s example.