Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has become the face of a movement that has filled our streets with protests and riots. He is not the voice, mind you, just the face. His handlers keep his image before the public through lucrative Nike endorsements but keep his public commentary to a minimum. Thus, it is difficult to really know the man and his mission. To that end, if we are to really understand our current social and political crisis, we need to know something of Kaepernick’s story.
Colin Kaepernick was born in 1987 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is the biological child of a single white mother, Heidi Russo, whose partner, an African American, fled the relationship when he learned she was pregnant. Russo, then 19, decided to allow Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, a white couple, to adopt the newborn boy. In their care, young Colin would be given a life and opportunities that almost certainly would have eluded him otherwise.
Raised in a Christian family, Colin was baptized a Methodist and confirmed as a Lutheran. Quiet and good-natured, the boy, it soon became clear, was a talented athlete, too. In high school he excelled in baseball, basketball, and football, and eventually received numerous scholarship offers to play collegiate baseball. But Kaepernick had big dreams of playing football. “I hope I go to a good college in football,” he wrote in fourth grade, “then go to the pros and play on the Niners or the Packers, even if they aren’t good in seven years.”
America being what it is, with his hard work and talent, his dream came true. In 2007, Kaepernick accepted the football scholarship and free education offered him by the University of Nevada. He took his Christian faith seriously, attending a Baptist church during this time and adding his now famous tattoos illustrating verses from the Bible and a Christian cross. With faith in his God, Kaepernick won the starting job as quarterback for the Wolf Pack, and in 2010, he led them to a 13-1 record and their first Top 25 ranking in 62 years.
True to his dream, Kaepernick was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. After a rookie year as the backup to quarterback Alex Smith, Kaepernick earned the starting job and led the 49ers to Super Bowl XLVII. Although they lost to the Baltimore Ravens 34-31, Kaepernick played well. The following year, he steered the 49ers back to the playoffs and an NFC Championship Game berth in which they lost to the Seattle Seahawks. During the off season, Kaepernick signed a six-year contract extension worth up to $126 million. Life was good.
Then came injuries, bad play, and a benching. In 2015, Kaepernick was replaced by Blaine Gabbert, as clear a sign as any that the San Francisco 49ers no longer believed in his ability to lead the team to a championship. Still, were he to never complete another pass, Colin Kaepernick had succeeded wildly in the only country on Earth where one could become a millionaire playing the game he loved. He was young and rich, and a world of possibilities remained open to him.
It is here that Kaepernick’s story takes a dark turn.
It is not uncommon for adopted children to struggle with identity, and Kaepernick often struggled with his. The impression one gets of the young Colin Kaepernick is that of a man with a genuine social conscience but whose Christian faith, while replete with platitudes, tattoos, and sincerity, was lacking in theological substance. As C. S. Lewis once observed, ideological deserts are fertile ground for propagandists, and in the summer of 2016, the likable kid who wrote in elementary school enthusiastically of his American dream fell under the influence of radical social justice warrior (SJW) Ameer Hasan Loggins, a Muslim convert and hip-hop icon cum Berkeley professor.
With Loggins’s encouragement, Kaepernick audited Loggins’s course on popular culture at Berkeley. Loggins characterizes Kaepernick as a hard-working, earnest student who was eager to learn. What, exactly, was Kaepernick learning under this new mentor? In sum, Loggins, who styles himself as an intellectual and a modern-day Malcolm X. He teaches, among other things, Islam as a religion of black liberation, capitalism as a system of oppression, and American history as one act of violence and exploitation after another.
According to the New York Times, Loggins introduced the NFL quarterback to Nessa Diab, an olive-skinned beauty of Egyptian parentage who has made her name as a Muslim-American activist and Bay Area shock jock. Diab is California-born but spent many of her childhood years in Saudi Arabia, where, she says, her sense of social justice grew. Outspoken in her support for Black Lives Matter (not to be confused with “black lives matter”) and in her respect for such champions of social justice as Fidel Castro, her views mirror those of Loggins. She and Kaepernick soon began a romantic relationship, and under the influence of Loggins’s teaching and her sweet nothings, the radicalization of Colin Kaepernick was well underway.
It seems hardly coincidental that in Kaepernick’s social media posts there now appeared indications of a new identity. This Colin Kaepernick was an angry political activist. He tweeted of lynching, murder, and bodies in the streets of America. Unsurprisingly, he expressed his admiration of Fidel Castro and Malcolm X. The oppression of black people at the hands of white police officers was a theme.
“We are under attack!” he wrote. “It’s as clear as day!”
Worse, he increasingly sounded like the black equivalent of a white supremacist, assuming the language of the violent revolutionary complete with the Black Panther “Black Power” salute. It is not hard to see the influence of his new handlers in all of this.
When Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the national anthem of a preseason game in 2016, he became the symbolic leader of “The Resistance,” a kind of domestic anti-Americanism that deems this country the root of all evil. Perhaps due to the distraction, perhaps due to the accumulated injuries, Kaepernick was a shadow of his former self, and facing release from the 49ers, he opted for free agency. When no team picked him up, Kaepernick, the man who had been an overcomer his whole life, who had lived the American Dream, now became a victim, accusing the NFL of collusion.
But America being what it is, the NFL settled out of court — some estimates put the settlement as high as $80 million — and Kaepernick signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Nike. Soon, they were marketing his image on billboards and television as something like an American Che Guevara to those foolish enough to think either is worthy of emulation.
Colin Kaepernick was born in a country where adoption is not only possible, but where the prevailing moral attitudes made his adoption likely.
He loved sports, and because his talents were valued, he enjoyed a free university education and a highly profitable career.
When that career failed, he blamed others, and the American legal system rewarded him handsomely as if a deep and genuine wrong had been done to him even though no wrong was ever legally established.
And since this is a capitalistic country where free enterprise is both legal and encouraged, he was even able to parlay his twin roles of victim and SJW into a major corporate sponsorship worth millions.
By any measure, Colin Kaepernick has flourished and profited under an American sky.
What a country, eh?
Colin Kaepernick’s story is instructive insofar as it gives us insight into the roots of his rage and that of the people who would place him in the pantheon of history’s great reformers. But a great reformer he is not. On the contrary, if one listens to Kaepernick’s extremely limited interviews, one can deduce no systematic platform or clearly articulated ideology as with a reformer of the stature of Martin Luther King Jr. Indeed, one detects little more than anger and hatred.
No, the ideology behind the movement Kaepernick would champion is provided by the likes of a Diab or a Loggins, and in sharp contrast to MLK Jr., who, like all great Western reformers, anchored his argument in Creation and the eternal laws of the God of the Bible, their radical agenda has no such foundation. Their movement, full of hate as it is for Western values rooted in Judeo-Christian principles, has much more in common with Islam. As noted above, this is not coincidental, and the difference between Christianity and Islam is the difference between MLK Jr. and Malcolm X, peace and violence, freedom and oppression.
That said, protest organizers are more than happy to capitalize on the confusion of many well-intentioned Americans, many Christians among them — let’s borrow a phrase from economist Ludwig von Mises and call them “useful innocents” — who would join these protests in the mistaken idea that this is really about equality and justice.
My venerable colleague Ben Stein has written that “this country is going absolutely crazy.” In this he is correct. But there is a deadly logic driving these insidious groups that we must not overlook. What we are witnessing is the thin edge of a social, political, and economic wedge that seeks a radical makeover of America as we know it. Reform the police? Equal opportunity for all? Don’t be naïve.
At its core, Kaepernick’s movement is fundamentally and chiefly anti-American, hence the veneration of Guevara and Castro over that of authentic reformers like Lincoln and MLK Jr.; an infatuation with socialism rather than capitalism; and the open embrace of Islam and rejection of Judeo-Christian values.
Colin Kaepernick’s leadership is more symbolic than real. But symbols are important, as Kaepernick and the ideologues behind him well understand. Indeed, it is precisely for this reason that they have chosen to attack the most powerful American symbol of all: the flag of the United States of America.
The American flag is, in itself, nothing more than a bit of colored cloth. Like the Constitution, which is nothing more than parchment and ink, it has no power beyond that which we as a people give it. For two and a half centuries it has been a symbol of the ideals for which we as a people imperfectly strive, and those are neatly summarized in the words “Liberty and justice for all.”
G. K. Chesterton, recognizing the source of America’s greatness, wrote, “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence.”
In that document we find these words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
The United States of America was born of rebellion to secure the blessings of liberty. From time to time, reformers have provided a necessary corrective by appealing to Americans in spirit of the very principles upon which this country was founded.
If Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter are really about social justice as, I believe, they disingenuously claim, why not hold Americans to these lofty ideals rather than desecrating the very thing that symbolizes them?
Larry Alex Taunton is a freelance columnist contributing to USA Today, Fox News, First Things, The Atlantic, The New York Post, CNN, Daily Caller, and The American Spectator. He is also the author of The Gospel Coalition Book of the Year The Faith of Christopher Hitchens, and the soon-to-be-released Around the World in (More Than) 80 Days. You can subscribe to his blog at larryalextaunton.com and find him on Twitter @larrytaunton.