Trent Dilfer Explains Criticism of Colin Kaepernick's National Anthem Protest

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistSeptember 14, 2016

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 13:  Trent Dilfer of the ESPN Monday Night Countdown team on the set before the game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Coliseum during preseason on August 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

ESPN personality and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer attempted to clarify the controversial comments he made about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during Sunday's NFL Countdown

On that program, Dilfer called those players who sat, knelt or protested during the national anthem in some way "irresponsible" because "people aren't tuning in to us to hear about what we feel about all these social issues," per Samer Kalaf of Deadspin.

Dilfer added:

No matter how passionate you are, no matter how much of a burden you have for social issues, you don't let it get in the way of the team. This is a backup quarterback whose job is to be quiet and sit in the shadows and get the starter ready to play in Week 1. Yet he chose a time where all of a sudden, he became the center of attention.

Finally, he noted, "Although I respect what he's doing, and I respect the passion and burden he has for this issue, a massive issue, I do not respect the fact that he put himself and his stance above the team."

Dilfer attempted to clarify those comments in an interview with Fitz & Brooks of KNBR 680 on Tuesday:

My wife and I had been introduced to some really disturbing stuff and other social injustices: Childhood slavery in our country. And I'd gone to a couple seminars and presentations where we got really deep in the weeds about this issue. It became a passion of ours to help fight this battle of childhood slavery around the country and I had a very big platform in Seattle and I could have leveraged being a Seattle Seahawk, being an NFL quarterback, done a lot to get that message out there, but I chose not to at the sake of not wanting to disrupt the team and I never want to draw attention to myself, and take it away from Matt [Hasselbeck], the rest of our team and our preparation to win.

For the second time, however, Dilfer appeared to suggest that Kaepernick shouldn't be vocal about this issue because it might be a distraction to the 49ers. Kaepernick reacted to Dilfer's initial comments after San Francisco's Monday night win over the Los Angeles Rams, per Kalaf:

[Saying] "You're a backup quarterback, stay in your place," that's an issue. To me, you're telling me that my position as a backup quarterback and being quiet is more important than people's lives. I would ask him to really have a conversation with the families of people that have been murdered and see if he still feels that way, because I bet you he doesn't. Just 'cause he hasn't experienced that type of oppression. I hope he goes home and really thinks about what he said, and how it impacts not just me, but how it impacts people whose lives are affected by these issues on a daily basis.

For many players, former players, coaches and front-office executives, there has long been the philosophy that football comes first. Players like Kaepernick, however, are suggesting that such a mentality isn't healthy and distracts from key issues in society that players should speak on if they have strong beliefs. 

Dilfer's comments point out that teams don't want unwanted distraction, though there is a difference between a player causing a distraction for trivial reasons and a player causing a distraction because he is taking a stance on an important issue.

And Kaepernick has hardly been alone in taking a stance.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and several other players wore "I Can't Breathe" shirts in December 2014 after the officer involved in Eric Garner's death wasn't indicted. That same month, five St. Louis Rams— Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, Chris Givens, Kenny Britt and Jared Cook—entered the field with their arms raised in support of the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri.

There are many more examples of athletes using their platform to protest in recent years. Kaepernick happens to be the latest. His particular protest has evoked strong emotions from all sides of the issue. Suggesting he shouldn't protest because he is an athlete, however, doesn't seem to be a productive entry into the conversation.

    

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