From time to time, fans become sufficiently upset with a player to burn his jersey. Usually, it happens when the player exercises his right to leave his team via free agency.
49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick exercised a different right on Friday night, and predictably some fans are reacting by setting his No. 7 jersey aflame.
The Daily Mail has a collection of the reactions from fans who have exercised their right to express disagreement with Kaepernick’s right to express disagreement with policies of the United States that he believes discriminate against African-Americans and people of color. Both sides have that right; the First Amendment allows Kaepernick to sit for the national anthem and to criticize the nation, and it allows others to criticize him for it, or to react however they want as long as their reaction violates no laws.
That’s the fundamental reality of a free society. If Kaepernick, knowing the business risk of taking a stand by sitting during the anthem, chooses to not participate — and chooses to explain that he refuses to show pride in the flag of a nation that oppresses a segment of his people, he’s doing nothing wrong. Others may think he’s wrong, but it’s still his right.
Beyond the right of fans to criticize him, businesses will have the right to no longer associate with him. The 49ers have been careful to say all the right things about Kaepernick, which could allow them to argue that any upcoming decision to cut or bench Kaepernick arises only from football reasons (even if it doesn’t). Still, the 49ers most likely would be violating no employment laws by declining to continue to employ Kaepernick for taking an unpopular position, and other teams would likely have the same ability to shun him.
Here’s the reality: If he’s perceived to be a good enough player, teams will find a way to make it work, regardless of how the fans may react. While Kaepernick is surely good enough to be one of the top two quarterbacks on a given NFL team, he’ll likely need to be better than good to persuade a team to embrace a player in an industry premised on persuading members of the public to part with their money and their time.