Athlete of the Month for July 2020
Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers from 2011 to 2016, became known for protesting injustice by refusing to stand for the national anthem.
Who Is Colin Kaepernick?
Colin Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1987. An athletic and mobile quarterback, Kaepernick attended the University of Nevada, Reno, where he set several school and college records. The San Francisco 49ers drafted Kaepernick in 2011, and he led the club to Super Bowl XLVII less than two years later. In 2016, Kaepernick drew attention for refusing to stand for the national anthem, a form of protest that was adopted by other players and became a hot-button political topic. He filed a grievance against NFL owners the following year for colluding to keep him out of the league, before agreeing to a confidential settlement in February 2019.
Colin Rand Kaepernick was born on November 3, 1987, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was just a few weeks old when he was adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick, who already had two children of their own but had lost two other babies not long after birth because of heart defects.
Kaepernick’s biological mother, Heidi Russo, was 19 when he was born. Faced with the prospect of raising her son on her own (Kaepernick’s biological father fled as soon as he discovered Russo was pregnant), she had spent much of her pregnancy debating whether she should put her baby up for adoption. After meeting the Kaepernicks, who had been introduced to her through a common friend, she decided to give her young child up.
As white parents of a bi-racial child, the Kaepernicks often received stares or curious comments. At school, classmates told Colin that it was impossible for the Kaepernicks to be his parents.
“We’ve always been really open about the adoption, and we were always very open about the skin colors,” Teresa Kaepernick told The New York Times in 2010. “We pointed it out as a positive, and he saw his difference and was comfortable with it.”
Athletic at a young age, Kaepernick, who moved with his family to California when he was 4 years old, began playing youth football at age 8. His strong arm quickly elevated him to the quarterback position. That same arm also made him an elite high school pitcher, one capable of throwing a fastball at 94 miles per hour.
But football was Kaepernick’s first love. In the fourth grade, he even penned a letter predicting that he would be the starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. “I hope I go to a good college in football then go to the pros and play on the Niners or the Packers, even if they aren’t good in seven years,” he wrote.
At John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, California, Kaepernick was a first-team All-District, All-Conference and All-Academic selection. But Kaepernick, whose big arm was hampered by what scouts viewed as a poor throwing motion, was largely passed over by the major college football programs. There were also concerns that the razor thin athlete—he matched his 6’4″ frame with just 170 pounds—would get hurt.
It was only after a tryout at a camp put on by the University of Nevada, Reno, that Kaepernick showed enough to warrant a scholarship, and he subsequently enrolled at the school in the fall of 2007. Recruited to play safety, Kaepernick stepped in to play QB in the fifth game of his freshman year, when the team’s starter went out with an injury against Fresno State. Throwing for 384 yards and four touchdowns, Kaepernick never relinquished the starting role and finished the year with 19 touchdowns.
Fast and strong, Kaepernick put up gaudy numbers during his four years playing for the Wolf Pack. He set several school records and became the first quarterback in the history of Division I FBS to pass for more than 10,000 yards and rush for more than 4,000 yards.
While concerns about Kaepernick’s throwing accuracy still hovered around him, the San Francisco 49ers selected the quarterback in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.
Rising Star in San Francisco
After serving as a backup throughout his rookie season to the team’s longtime starter, Alex Smith, Kaepernick took over as the team’s No. 1 quarterback in 2012, after Smith was forced to sit out late in the year as a result of a concussion.
As he had done in college, Kaepernick quickly adapted to the new competition, dazzling 49er fans and coaches with his unmatched athleticism. After the second-year QB led the club to several big wins, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh named the young player his permanent starting quarterback. Because the team had come within several plays of going to the Super Bowl just a year before, and because Smith had recently garnered one of the league’s premier QB ratings, the decision was a controversial one.
But Kaepernick shut out the noise. As the wins mounted, Kaepernick’s celebrity grew, even his well-tattooed arms gained notoriety. In his first postseason start, he dominated Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, rushing for 181 yards to a set a new NFL single game record for a quarterback. After defeating the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game, Kaepernick and the 49ers fell to Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.
“It’s good to get the experience,” a somber Kaepernick said after the game. “We should have won that game regardless, though.”
Kaepernick opened the 2013 season on a strong note, passing for 412 yards and three touchdowns. The 49ers went on to notch a 12-4 record and earn a playoff berth, although this time the season ended with a close loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC championship game.
Despite more standout moments from their franchise QB, the 49ers slipped to an 8-8 mark in 2014. The wheels then completely came off in 2015, with Kaepernick losing his starting job before being sidelined for the final month-plus with a shoulder injury. After the season, his desire to be traded to another team went unfulfilled.