SAN FRANCISCO (CBS/AP) — When Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to take a stand against police brutality and racial injustice in 2016, he was mostly alone.

Politicians, team owners and fellow players criticized him, fans burned his jersey, and he was booed even at home. Four years later, his protest is widely viewed as prescient.

Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel on the sideline during the anthem prior to a game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium Oct. 2, 2016. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized to players for not listening to them earlier and encouraged them to protest peacefully.

“We, the National Football League, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of black people,” Goodell said in a video released Friday. “We, the National Football League, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the National Football League, believe black lives matter. I personally protest with you and want to be part of the much needed change in this country.”

Global opinion has shifted so much that more people are now vilifying those who attack Kaepernick or misrepresent his stance.

New Orleans Saints star quarterback Drew Brees issued a public apology Thursday after he was excoriated by teammates, other athletes and fans for saying he “will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States.”

That sentiment has been voiced loudly by Kaepernick’s critics and President Donald Trump reiterated it Friday, saying on Twitter: “I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high… We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!”

Brees responded on social media in a post addressed to the president’s Twitter handle.

“Through my ongoing conversations with friends, teammates, and leaders in the black community, I realize this is not an issue about the American flag. It has never been,” Brees wrote. “We can no longer use the flag to turn people away or distract them from the real issues that face our black communities.

“We did this back in 2017, and regretfully I brought it back with my comments this week. We must stop talking about the flag and shift our attention to the real issues of systemic racial injustice, economic oppression, police brutality, and judicial & prison reform. We are at a critical juncture in our nation’s history! If not now, then when?

“We as a white community need to listen and learn from the pain and suffering of our black communities. We must acknowledge the problems, identify the solutions, and then put this into action. The black community cannot do it alone. This will require all of us.”

George Floyd’s death, which ignited nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality, awakened many people to the root of the issues that led to Kaepernick’s peaceful demonstration — an expression meant to raise awareness of such issues, not demean the flag or the anthem. The 32-year-old Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016.

“The protest is really trying to hold us accountable for the things we say we believe in. It’s about equality and justice for all,” said Houston Texans wide receiver Kenny Stills, who has been taking a knee since Week 1 of the 2016 season.

This week, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Kaepernick deserves respect and admiration for starting the protest. Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll praised him for his courage and sacrificing his career. Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy compared Kaepernick to Muhammad Ali.

“There’s a lot of parallels between Colin and my father,” said Ali’s daughter, Khaliah. “He stands 100 percent with integrity no matter the cost. He made an unwavering commitment for the betterment of his people and took an unapologetic stance against injustice. I have had many people attempt to discourage our support of Colin, which is unthinkable to me. He is a friend to our family, he is loved and honored.”

The NFL and its teams have voiced their support for equality and called for change. In a video released Thursday night, 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and several of his peers asked the league to “condemn racism and the systemic oppression of black people” and “admit wrong in silencing players from peacefully protesting.”

Goodell did so in his strongest statement since Kaepernick and other players began their protests.

“Without black players, there would be no National Football League,” Goodell said. “And the protests around the country are emblematic of the centuries of silence, inequality and oppression of black players, coaches, fans and staff. We are listening. I am listening, and I will be reaching out to players who have raised their voices and others on how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family.”

Kaepernick still wants an opportunity to play. A workout in Atlanta last November that was organized by the NFL turned chaotic and resulted in no job offers.

“Colin is a talented football player,” Seahawks star Russell Wilson said this week. “I remember playing against him; the man could play some football. But he stood up for something far more greater than football. And that’s people’s lives. He was standing up for people that have come and gone and for everyone who is African American and the oppression that has been going on.”

KAEPERNICK TIMELINE

Here’s a timeline of Colin Kaepernick’s pro football and post-NFL days since he first kneeled during “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Aug. 26, 2016: During the anthem before a Packers-49ers preseason game, Kaepernick sits on the San Francisco bench. Kaepernick says he sat because the country “oppresses black people and people of color.” His action does not attract immediate national attention. He mentions that he had earlier not stood for the anthem.

Aug. 27, 2016: Kaepernick’s sitdown begins drawing headlines. Some condemn him for dishonoring the flag and country. Others applaud his motives. The NFL says players are encouraged but not required to stand for the anthem.

Aug. 30, 2016: Former NFL player and ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer suggests to Kaepernick to kneel rather than sit during the anthem.

Sept. 1, 2016: Kaepernick kneels before a road game against the Chargers and says he will donate $1 million to organizations supporting his aims.

Sept. 5, 2016: President Barack Obama defends Kaepernick’s protest, saying it is his constitutional right.

Sept. 7, 2016: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he “doesn’t necessarily agree with what (Kaepernick) is doing,” but supports players who seek changes in society.

Sept. 11, 2016: On the first full day of the regular season, several players kneel during the anthem.

Sept. 12, 2016: Kaepernick and safety Eric Reid kneel before the 49ers’ home game against the Rams. Kaepernick is rehabbing a knee injury and doesn’t play.

Sept. 27, 2016: After criticism from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Kaepernick responds: “He always says make America great again. Well, America has never been great for people of color. That’s something that needs to be addressed. Let’s make America great for the first time.”

Oct. 16, 2016: Kaepernick returns as 49ers starter in a 45-16 loss at Buffalo and remains the starter the rest of the season.

Jan. 1, 2017: Kaepernick plays his final NFL game, a 25-23 loss to Seattle.

March 3, 2017: His stint with the 49ers, who planned to cut him, ends as Kaepernick opts out of his contract.

Aug. 25, 2017: Although several teams have shown moderate interest in Kaepernick, he gets no contract offers. Supporters say team owners are blackballing him, and a group rallies outside NFL headquarters in Manhattan.

Sept. 10, 2017: Without Kaepernick in the league, players still kneel during the anthem.

Sept. 26, 2017: Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones locks arms and kneels with his players before the anthem but stand while it’s played.

Oct. 15, 2017: Kaepernick files a grievance against NFL team owners, citing collusion to keep him out of the league.

Dec. 31, 2017: NFL season ends with Kaepernick unemployed.

April 18, 2018: As part of their collusion claim, Kaepernick and his representatives depose Goodell and a variety of NFL owners and executives, including Jones.

May 23, 2018: NFL owners approve a rule banning kneeling during the anthem. Players have the option to stay in the locker room. President Trump applauds the rule. NFL owners soon retract the rule because of its divisiveness.

Sept. 3, 2018: As the regular season approaches without Kaepernick again, Nike makes the quarterback the focal point of its sports advertising campaign. “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt.” There are calls for boycotting Nike as well as praise for the apparel company.

Sept. 9, 2018: A second straight season begins with Kaepernick not on a roster, but with some players still kneeling during the anthem.

Sept. 26, 2018: Reid, a free agent, finally finds a team, the Carolina Panthers, and is congratulated on social media by Kaepernick.

Dec. 30, 2018: The regular season ends. Kaepernick remains without an NFL offer.

Feb. 15, 2019: The NFL reaches settlements with Kaepernick and Reid on collusion grievances. Monetary figures are not disclosed.

Aug. 8, 2019: Eyeing an NFL job, Kaepernick sends social media message to teams that includes a video of him working out.

Sept. 8, 2019: The third consecutive full opening day of an NFL season without Kaepernick.

Nov. 18, 2019: Finally, a workout with NFL teams, but chaos ensues. Kaepernick moves the session in Atlanta, contending the league was not transparent in how it would be run, who would attend and who would be liable for potential injuries. A limited number of teams make it to the workout. Says Kaepernick: “We all know why. I came out there and showed it today in front of everybody. Stop running from the truth. Stop running from the people.”

Dec. 29, 2019: The season ends with Kaepernick unsigned.

Feb. 13, 2020: Kaepernick announces he will write a memoir, though he still wants to play football.

May 29, 2020: Sparked by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer in Minneapolis pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes, Kaepernick offers support to nationwide protesters. “We have the right to fight back! Rest in power George Floyd.”

May 30, 2020: The NFL’s statement on Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests mentions Kaepernick’s demonstrations during the anthem.

June 4, 2020: Many of Kaepernick’s supporters within the league release a video urging the NFL to denounce racism and further promote social justice.

June 5, 2020: In a video, Goodell apologizes to players for not listening to them earlier. He encourages them to protest peacefully and denounces racism. He says the league will be part of “how we can improve and go forward for a better and more united NFL family.”

June 5, 2020: Trump reiterates his criticism of Kaepernick after New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees apologizes for comments about protesters’ goals: The president says on Twitter the player “should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag. OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high… We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart. There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag – NO KNEELING!”

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