NEW YORK — Jed York, the chief executive of the San Francisco 49ers, said he initially had a negative reaction last season when Colin Kaepernick, the team’s former quarterback, refused to stand for the national anthem in protest of racial inequality and police mistreatment of African Americans in the United States.
But York said that after speaking with Kaepernick about the issues involved, he came to support Kaepernick and remains supportive now of 49ers players who kneel during the anthem in protest.
“I haven’t talked to Colin recently,” York said Tuesday at the NFL owners’ meeting here. “But we’ve had a lot of great discussions. A lot of these discussions started with Colin last year. And I’ll say from my own personal standpoint when Colin originally sat, I was taken aback by it. I mean, I felt like a lot of people that have been negative toward sort of the anthem protests. And then I sat down with Colin and I heard where he was coming from and why he wanted to sit. Then he chose to kneel because he felt like it was much less disrespectful to the flag. And I don’t believe it was disrespectful to the flag, him taking a knee.
“He got that feedback, and I think his message has been lost. And that’s the disappointing thing in this is that his message has been lost about what he’s been fighting for. And I think that’s one of the things that’s really struck me is the more you sit down with our players and hear what they’re about, what they are fighting for, it’s really, really hard to disagree with them. And I think the more that we can get that message out and understand what they’re fighting for and why they’re fighting for it, the easier that it’s gonna be to make progress.”
York was among the ownership representatives who met earlier Tuesday with players at the NFL’s offices on Park Avenue. The owners then held their regularly scheduled fall meeting at a hotel in Lower Manhattan, and they emerged from the full day of meetings without a requirement for players to stand for the national anthem. The owners’ discussions on the topic are to continue Wednesday but several owners said Tuesday they don’t foresee a major rule change regarding players standing for the anthem.
“I don’t want to take a bow and say that we did something great and special,” York said of the 49ers. “It happened to start with us. But it started with Colin. And I give Colin so much credit, so much respect for doing something that he knew was gonna create backlash. And he was courageous in what he did. But now we have to go from protest to progress. And I think we are getting much, much closer to progress. I will be much prouder of progress that we made than anything about that this started with the San Francisco 49ers.”
Kaepernick remains unsigned after opting out of his contract with the 49ers, who said they would not have retained Kaepernick for this season under the terms of that deal. He has filed a grievance accusing NFL teams of colluding to keep him out of the league. York said he does not believe that teams have blackballed Kaepernick because of his political statement.
“I don’t believe in that at all,” York said. “I mean, we obviously had Colin on our team last year. He didn’t start when he took a knee. He ended up starting — I’m probably gonna get the games wrong — but I think he started 11 of the games last year after he had taken a knee. And we were very supportive of that. So we’ve been supportive of players. We’ve had the most players take a knee. And you can’t take somebody’s politics and add that into football and make that a decision. And I don’t personally believe that that’s what’s happened with Colin.”