Saturday’s preseason game against the Green Bay Packers was not the first in which the San Francisco 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick remained seated during the performance of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Kaepernick also stayed seated during two previous games, but observers failed to notice because the quarterback was inactive for both games as he recovered from injuries. So when cameras caught an in-uniform Kaepernick sitting on Saturday, the media was taken by surprise.
That won’t happen again. Kaepernick — who has said that his decision to sit during the anthem is a statement against the unjust treatment of African-Americans, particularly at the hands of police — has promised to continue his protest in future games. That means broadcasters will be ready. And they don’t plan to turn a blind eye.
The 49ers are scheduled to open their regular season Sept. 12 against the Los Angeles Rams on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” Because 49ers-Rams will be the second of two back-to-back games on ESPN that evening, the network won’t have the opportunity to carry live coverage of the anthem.
“That doesn’t mean we couldn’t record it and report it,” Jay Rothman, lead producer on “Monday Night Football,” said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. “I think our job, especially with the whole Kaepernick deal, it’s our job to document and report the game. And those who are working on the game, if Kaepernick is on the team and chooses to sit again, I’m sure they’ll get perspective from Kaepernick, they’ll get perspective from [49ers head coach] Chip Kelly, they’ll get perspective from others and report.”
Because 49ers-Rams is game two of a doubleheader, it won’t be covered by the “Monday Night Football” on-air team of announcers Sean McDonough and Jon Gruden and reporter Lisa Salters. Instead the game will be called by Chris Berman and Steve Young, with Lindsay Czarniak reporting from the sidelines.
Salters said on the call that she expects that the 49ers-Rams broadcast team, particularly Czarniak, will pay close attention to Kaepernick.
“Our job is to document and report what happens,” Salters said. “Lindsay will be the reporter for that game, and I’m sure she’s going to spend a bit of time talking to Colin before the game, should he make the team, about his position. She will get his reaction about the criticism that he has gotten, about the support that he’s gotten. And she’ll present a report based on that and based on what actually happens during the national anthem.”
Salter also speculated about what would happen if Kaepernick rethinks his protest.
“He may stand during the national anthem, and that would make news as well, because it would be going against what he said he was going to do,” she said.
Kaepernick explained his decision to sit during the anthem in a press conference with NFL Media after Saturday’s game.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” the quarterback said. “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.”
Kaepernick’s protest has since drawn impassioned responses of support and criticism from players and fans. Both the NFL and the 49ers have issued statements recognizing Kaepernick’s right to sit during the anthem without endorsing his decision.
How Kaepernick is covered depends on whether he is on the field when the anthem plays. Once a star quarterback, Kaepernick performed poorly last season before being beset by injuries. He did nothing to distinguish himself on the field Saturday in his lone preseason appearance thus far. If he makes the 49ers roster, it will likely be as a backup to expected starter Blaine Gabbert.
Before the 49ers make their final roster cuts, Kaepernick will have one more chance to prove himself on the field — in the team’s next preseason game Thursday against the San Diego Chargers. The game will be Kaepernick’s first since Saturday’s against Green Bay, and will be broadcast in the San Francisco Bay Area by CBS affiliate KPIX.
Kaepernick is expected to be the starter for the Chargers game.
“As usual, our primary focus will be on football,” KPIX president and general manager Bruno Cohen said via email. “That said, we will also cover the controversy surrounding Colin Kaepernick in an appropriate manner.”
Asked whether that would include showing footage of Kaepernick sitting during the anthem, Cohen said, “If Kaepernick sits during the anthem, we won’t ignore it.”