Niners vow to 'stick together' in wake of Colin Kaepernick's protest

ByNick Wagoner ESPN logo
Monday, August 29, 2016

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Before the San Francisco 49ers practiced or quarterback Colin Kaepernick met with the media on Sunday afternoon, they held a players-only meeting.

The goal of the meeting was to give everyone a chance to speak and understand where Kaepernick is coming from with his decision to sit during the national anthem.

Perhaps just as important, the meeting was meant to ensure that a team coming off a last-place finish in the NFC West would not fracture before the season even began.

"Before anyone can try to separate us as a team, we went ahead and attacked it," safety Antoine Bethea said. "We spoke on it, Kap got in front of us and he spoke on it, and that's all that needs to be said. We're going to keep that in the room, and if Kap wants to say anything else about it, that's his choice. But as a team, we spoke on it and continue to move forward and get ready for the season."

To hear other players around the locker room describe the meeting, it was much-needed if for no other reason than there was a segment of the locker room that not only didn't agree with what Kaepernick is doing, but didn't understand it.

Center Daniel Kilgore, a sixth-year pro from Kingsport, Tennessee, counted himself among those who didn't know where Kaepernick was coming from when he found out about the protest. Kilgore talked about how he has family and friends in the military and found Kaepernick's sitting an affront to them.

Kilgore said after hearing Kaepernick speak at the meeting, he gained new perspective.

"Colin made it clear that he wasn't trying to discriminate against the military," Kilgore said. "But I can see where some people take offense to that. Personally, I have family and friends who are currently serving so I mean, when it came out, to be honest with you, I took offense to it when it came out.

"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. I believe that enough is enough. But I could see why people would think it's bad with the national anthem and the military.

"For me, personally, I'm going to stand there every time and I'm going to thank God and honor those who are fighting, those who have fought, my family members and my friends. If Kap decides not to, that's his decision."

For receiver Torrey Smith, who has actively expressed his views on political and social issues via social media, it wasn't about understanding where Kaepernick is coming from as it is about ensuring that the focus of the discussion is in the right place.

"I think everyone has the right to stand up for what they believe in, so I respect that first and foremost," Smith said. "I agree with what he did but not the way he did it. That's not for me. But he has that right. Soldiers have died for his right to do exactly what he did. "

While Smith said he didn't agree with how Kaepernick went about sending his message, he did note that it was good to see Kaepernick willing to put himself out there to get his point across.

"We have issues in our country and things that need to be addressed and oftentimes athletes -- people want them to take a stand and then when they do, it's 'Hey, you all shut up, sit down,'" Smith said. "He did something; it's the national anthem and of course can offend people and I understand that as well, but I'm not more so focused on what he did, it's more about the message that he was trying to send. I'm sure he didn't mean to offend anyone."

Tight end Bruce Miller said the message seemed to get across to most of the team, himself included.

"I think that we just have a better understanding of what he was feeling, what he was trying to say, and that way we can move on and approach this in our own way, but be knowledgeable and understand where he was coming from," Miller said.

As Kaepernick addressed the media in the afternoon, he said the support he has received from teammates has been "great." And for those who still need clarification, well, those are precisely the type of conversations Kaepernick was hoping to spark by doing this.

"I know the consequences that come along with my decision, and if they feel strongly and want to stand with me, then I hope they do," Kaepernick said. "If it's something they're not ready for, then that's what the conversations are for and they can make that decision when they're ready or if they're ready."

In addition to understanding Kaepernick's position, the primary goal of the meeting was to make sure everybody is on the same page to prevent the situation from becoming a distraction.

"He has the right to do whatever he wants to do, and there's value to his opinion," linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "What we're focused on here is keeping this team together, not letting any type of cancer or anything get in between us. That's what was said to Colin and he understood that. He voiced his opinion about the issue and our main focus is to keep this team together and understand that any guy that feels like they need to stand up for anything, that's their prerogative. You have the right to do that.

"But the most important thing is that we all stick together and we are here for one reason and that reason is to win games."