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Protesters To Block Traffic At Rams Opener In Show Of Support For Colin Kaepernick

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Kaepernick, right, at the Memorial Coliseum in 2016. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, made headlines in late August of 2016 when he refused to stand for the national anthem. He would do this for a number of subsequent games, later explaining that it was a response to the recent police shootings of black men. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL.com. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Fast forward a year later, and Kaepernick is out of a job in the NFL. This, in spite of the fact that he’d notched a decent 90.7 passer rating in 2016, throwing 16 touchdowns in 12 games. Lesser-qualified quarterbacks have been picked up by NFL teams in the off-season, while Kaepernick remains without a home in the league. NFL execs have given different reasons as to why they passed over Kaepernick, but many others say that, with the talents that Kaepernick possesses, it’s more than a little odd that he still doesn't have a job when the season is getting underway. Now, the L.A. chapter of the National Action Network, a civil rights group founded by Al Sharpton in 1991, will take to the L.A. Rams season opener to protest the NFL for “its blackballing of Kaepernick,” according to a statement obtained by Electronic Urban Report. The group told LA Weekly that they’ll be blocking traffic outside of the Memorial Coliseum on Sunday when the Rams take on the Indianapolis Colts for the season opener. "We plan on impeding traffic and the fans' ability to watch the game on time," said Najee Ali, head of the local chapter of NAN. According to the group's Facebook page, they'll be demonstrating from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. (the game starts at 1 p.m.).

Norman Eisenman, a public information officer with the LAPD, told LAist that the department has not heard of the planned protest, and that it’s not on their radar. Though she added that the LAPD “has enough resources to make sure that everything remains peaceful.” Ali told LA Weekly that, if it came to it, demonstrators would not resist arrest. "We just want to practice our First Amendment rights peacefully, in a non-violent fashion — in a manner that Kaepernick did," said Ali. "I'm willing to be arrested."

The protest is part of a larger boycott of the league, say organizers. "When the NFL or any corporation punishes a man for standing against police brutality then that means the company or corporation is in favor and a supporter of police brutality,” Ali said in a statement. "We plan on disrupting and carrying out acts of civil disobedience against those who choose to support the NFL, its blackballing of Kaepernick and the fact that they don’t care about black and brown lives.” The statement cites the killings of Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott as examples of police brutality against black men.

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NAN isn’t alone in calling for NFL teams to pick up Kaepernick. Out in Chicago, a couple bars have announced their decision to not show NFL games until Kaepernick lands a new spot. "Every bar benefits from football games ... this is more about right and wrong," Kenny Johnson, the owner of the two bars, told DNAInfo Chicago. "We'll take a hit, but be OK."

In mid-August, dozens of NYPD officers (most of them black) held a rally out in Brooklyn while wearing “#ImWithKap” t-shirts. “We decided to gather here today because of the way he's being railroaded for speaking the obvious truth,” said NYPD Sergeant Edwin Raymond, according to New York Daily News.

The NFL has largely been mum about the issue. When asked about Kaepernick’s situation, league commissioner Roger Goodell gave a decidedly undecisive answer to CBS, saying, "I want to see everyone get an opportunity, including Colin, but those decisions are made by football people.” He later added, “I'm still convinced that he'll get that opportunity when the right opportunity comes along. That's what our league's all about.” Though, this doesn’t account for how Kaepernick’s still jobless in the NFL, when multiple teams had needed a new quarterback (even if it’s for a second-string role), and when the season is already kicking off on Thursday. "I think he should be on a roster right now. I think because of his protests, he's not," the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers told ESPN The Magazine.

Kaepernick’s protest has reverberated on the field as well. In 2016, Megan Rapinoe, soccer star of the U.S. Women’s National Team, followed in Kaepernick’s example and took a knee during the national anthem. Players from other NFL teams would demonstrate as well, with some taking a knee and others raising a fist in the air. Even high school teams were holding protests, citing Kaepernick as an influence. And just this August, star running back Marshawn Lynch sat during the national anthem for the Oakland Raiders’ preseason games, though he’d declined to say why. Also, more white players (like the Philadelphia Eagles’ Chris Long) have voiced support for their black teammates who are demonstrating.

Certainly, the topic of police brutality will continue to hang over the 2017-2018 NFL season. The Seattle Seahawk’s Michael Bennett said Tuesday in a tweet that, last month, he had an encounter with Las Vegas police that had him “terrified and confused.” He said he was heading to his hotel from the Floyd Mayweather/Conor McGregor fight when he and a crowd heard what sounded like gunshots. An officer later ordered him to get on the ground and “placed his gun near [Bennett’s] head,” as another officer jammed his knee into Bennett’s back. He was later released without any charges. Bennett later accused the officers of racial profiling, saying at a news conference, "It sucks that in the country that we live in now, sometimes you get profiled for the color of your skin," according to ESPN.

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LAist reached out to the Rams front office but have yet to hear back at time of publication.