Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump on Shortlist for 2017 TIME Person of the Year

Timothy RappFeatured ColumnistDecember 4, 2017

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 03:  Honoree Colin Kaepernick speaks onstage at ACLU SoCal Hosts Annual Bill of Rights Dinner at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons Hotel on December 3, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images)
Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the national anthem before NFL games in the 2016 season and began a national dialogue in the process, and United States President Donald Trump highlight the shortlist for TIME's "Person of the Year" distinction.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the Dreamers, Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un, the #MeToo movement, special counsel Robert Mueller, Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Chinese President Xi Jinping round out the list.

Kaepernick and Trump became connected over the past year for their incredibly divergent stances on player protests during the national anthem before NFL games.

Kaepernick started the movement in 2016, initially sitting during the anthem before preseason games to protest police brutality and racial inequality. He later decided to kneel in an effort to continue his protest while also paying respect to military members.

Several other NFL players and athletes in other sports and levels of play followed suit throughout 2016, but the tenor of the discussion surrounding those protests changed in 2017. For one, Kaepernick became a free agent and wasn't signed by an NFL team despite previously leading the Niners to a Super Bowl appearance. With many quarterbacks signed before and during the season that could arguably be considered less talented than Kaepernick, many pundits suggested that the veteran quarterback was being blackballed by the league for taking a political stance.

Kaepernick agreed, eventually levying a lawsuit against the NFL that accused its owners of colluding to keep him out of the league.

But Trump's decision to insert himself into the conversation also changed the scope of the debate. 

"Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired. He's fired!'" he said during a political rally in September, per Bryan Armen Graham of the Guardian. "You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, 'That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.' And that owner, they don't know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country."

His initial comments were so divisive and controversial that entire NFL teams—including coaches and some owners—either took a knee together the week following his comments or made a uniform gesture during the anthem. A few teams didn't appear on the field for the anthem at all.  

Trump has continued to tweet his distaste for player protests during the anthem, claiming they are disrespectful:

In the wake of Kaepernick's situation and Trump's comments, the NFL has proposed a joint charity with the league's players that would "contribute nearly $100 million to causes considered important to African-American communities," per Jim Trotter and Jason Reid of ESPN.com.

While that plan has been polarizing among NFL players, it's the latest development in what has been one of the most prevalent stories in both sports and in the United States over the past two years, remaining a divisive debate between those who support the players using their platform to protest racial inequality and those who feel the gestures are disrespectful to the flag and military.