Colin Kaepernick wins 49ers' award for 'inspirational, courageous play'

ByNick Wagoner ESPN logo
Saturday, December 31, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In a season filled with controversy surrounding San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's protest of racial inequality in the United States, Kaepernick apparently inspired many of his teammates.

When the 49ers announced their team awards Friday afternoon, Kaepernick was the recipient of the Len Eshmont Award, given to the 49er who "best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team." The award, which was established after Eshmont died in 1957, is considered the most prestigious honor the players vote on.

After sitting down for the national anthem before a preseason game, Kaepernick has knelt during the anthem for the entire season. He has been joined most of the time by safety Eric Reid and outside linebacker Eli Harold. Kaepernick took over the starting quarterback job in Week 6 against Buffalo and has remained in that position since.

For his part, Kaepernick said recently that having the support of teammates such as Harold and Reid has been helpful.

"It's very impactful, and I think they are people who have very strong character," Kaepernick said. "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."

After Kaepernick's protest first became public knowledge in the preseason, the 49ers had a players-only meeting in which Kaepernick welcomed his teammates to ask questions about his reasons for the protest.

Center Daniel Kilgore said at the time that he initially didn't understand why Kaepernick chose to voice his opinion during the anthem, but he came out of that meeting with a different perspective.

"After Kap stated his case today, and seeing where he is coming from, I do stand with Kap when he says 'enough is enough' against crime and the violence and discrimination and racism," Kilgore said in August. "I believe that enough is enough. But I could see why people would think it's bad with the national anthem and the military."

Kaepernick's protest soon became a national story that attracted both opposition and support. Other NFL players, and athletes in other sports, began to take a knee as a way of backing Kaepernick's message.

As part of his protest, Kaepernick also pledged to donate $1 million to endeavors he believes will help communities in need, and he hosted a Know Your Rights camp for young people in the Bay Area during the team's bye week. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in September.

All season, Niners players and coaches have insisted that Kaepernick's protest has not detracted from the team's efforts. Some even said it has brought the team closer together.

"Colin has handled that situation better than anyone could have imagined," receiver Torrey Smith said in October. "It hasn't been a distraction in our locker room, and it probably helped him open up to a lot of our team and our teammates better. He's been very open in communication about that as well as football."

Coach Chip Kelly said Thursday that Kaepernick will start the season finale Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. From there, Kaepernick will enter an uncertain offseason in which he has the ability to opt out of his contract.

The past two winners of the Eshmont Award -- running back Frank Gore and receiver Anquan Boldin -- left the franchise after claiming the honor.