On Sunday, though, Brett Favre offered another comparison for Kaepernick: Pat Tillman.
The legendary former Green Bay Packers quarterback was speaking with TMZ Sports when he was asked whether Kaepernick, who helped the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance in addition to two trips to the NFC championship game, deserved Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration, given his off-field contributions.
Favre indicated that was a tough question, and he didn’t answer it directly. But he proceeded to say of Kaepernick: “I suppose he has helped his cause tremendously and is deserving of much praise and respect. Because it’s not easy for a guy his age, black or white, Hispanic, whatever, to stop something that you’ve always dreamed of doing and put it on hold — maybe forever — for something that you believe in.
“I can only think of, right off the top of my head, Pat Tillman’s another guy who did something similar, and we regard him as a hero,” Favre added. “So I’d assume that hero status will be stamped with Kaepernick as well.”
However, Favre sought Monday to clarify that he wasn’t equating the sacrifices made by Tillman and Kaepernick.
“Including Pat Tillman’s name in the interview on Colin Kaepernick was not a comparison of the two, but a recognition that they both sidelined their football dreams in pursuit of a cause,” he tweeted. “Pat tragically lost his life, making the ultimate sacrifice, and deserves the highest honor.”
Tillman was a safety for the Arizona Cardinals who, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, ended his four-year NFL career in 2002 to join the Army and become a Ranger.
After Tillman was killed in action in 2004, his death in Afghanistan was initially described as having occurred at the hands of enemy combatants before an investigation revealed he was slain by friendly fire. Since then, he has been frequently cited as an example of patriotism, although his widow has occasionally taken issue with attempts to use Tillman to further political narratives.
“Pat’s service, along with that of every man and woman’s service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us,” Marie Tillman said in 2017. “As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify. It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together.”
Those comments were issued after President Trump continued his criticism of the NFL player protests during the national anthem — begun by Kaepernick the year before — by retweeting a supporter’s post that showed Tillman in military garb with an exhortation for everyone to “stand for our anthem.”
That was not the first time Marie Tillman spoke out against Trump. Earlier in 2017, she said Pat Tillman would have objected to the president’s executive order barring travel from seven majority Muslim countries, writing, “This is not the country he dreamed of, not what he served for and not what he died for.”
The following year, Marie Tillman wrote in an essay for The Washington Post: “Pat was in the military, so many people want to attach a brand of blind allegiance to him and use him to argue that kneeling during the national anthem is unpatriotic. Pat was also against the Iraq War, so many others want to use him to argue against American involvement in overseas wars. His essence is bent to fit an agenda. … I can’t say how Pat would have felt about race in the United States today or kneeling during the national anthem. But I can say that he would have engaged in thoughtful and respectful discourse, never shying away from the nuance, never taking the easy way, and looking, always, for a conversation instead of a fight.”
On Sunday, Favre’s likening of Kaepernick to Tillman was met with outrage by some, particularly conservative pundits. Fox News contributor Dan Bongino tagged Favre on Twitter while posting a photo of socks Kaepernick once wore that appeared to depict policemen as pigs, adding in a caption, “If this guy is your ‘hero’ then you’re the problem.”
“Tillman gave up fame and fortune to serve in the military, and he paid the ultimate price,” the Daily Caller’s David Hookstead tweeted. “Kaep called cops slave catchers, wore pig socks and praised Castro. It’s an insulting comparison.”
Kaepernick’s role in raising awareness of police brutality, as well as his effective banishment from the NFL, returned to the national discussion as protests sprung up across the country and elsewhere in the world after the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently said he would “support” and “encourage” a team to sign Kaepernick. That came after Goodell responded to prodding from a number of high-profile players in his league by declaring: “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter.”
Trump, who has been critical of the Black Lives Matter protests, has continued to maintain that kneeling during the anthem is unacceptable, but he also said he would not mind if Kaepernick returned to the NFL.
“I would love to see him get another shot,” the president said last week. “But obviously, he has to be able to play well. If he can’t play well, I think it would be very unfair.”
Calling Kaepernick a “dynamic” player in his prime, Favre noted Sunday that the 32-year-old is “still young and hasn’t been hit in several years, so there’s no reason to think that he’s lost that much of a step.”
“I think from a football sense, I can’t imagine [Kaepernick] being that far out of shape, or that far out of touch with football, that he doesn’t deserve a shot,” Favre said.