Those who stand with Colin Kaepernick for not standing for the national anthem, you’re receiving support from an unlikely source — the NFL merchandise buying public. Kaepernick’s red San Francisco 49ers jersey is now No. 1 in the rankings of the top-selling jerseys in the NFLShop.
We can’t say how long Kaepernick’s jersey will remain at the top of that real-time, dynamically generated list. The rankings change regularly. But Kaepernick’s shirt took the top spot on Tuesday and remains there as of press time today, indicating that the 49ers quarterback is now the most popular player in the NFL among people willing to plunk down $100 for a short-sleeve pullover.
This is unusual, because Colin Kaepernick is a benched, backup quarterback who last season lost his job to Blaine Freaking Gabbert and was in serious jeopardy of not even making the 49ers roster this year. Prior to Kaepernick’s refusal to rise for the national anthem during an August 26 exhibition game, his jersey ranked around 120th in sales according to ESPN. When Kaepernick was demoted late last season, some stores lowered his jersey price to as little as $5.
Kaepernick has not played a lick of meaningful football since losing his starting job last November, but has successfully started a national conversation on whether players and fans are truly obliged to stand for the singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. The quarterback sat during the anthem for the third preseason game as a silent form of protest — silent until football blogger Jennifer Lee Chan tweeted a photo that captured Kap’s sitting down for the anthem, setting off a firestorm of criticism from right-wing media and even eliciting comment from President Obama.
Turns out Kaepernick had not been standing the national anthem for the two previous preseason games either, it’s just that nobody noticed. When his sit hit the fan, Kaepernick told NFL Media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
“To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” he added. “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Dozens of fans posted pictures of burning their Kaepernick jerseys in response. Kaepernick himself threw gas on the fire by wearing socks that depicted police as pigs for a September 1 practice. Since then, the Seattle Seahawks Jeremy Lane has also refused to stand for the anthem, as has women’s soccer pro Megan Rapinoe, and 49ers safety Eric Reid joined Kaepernick in kneeling but not standing for the team’s final preseason game.
And fans have made Kaepernick’s jersey the best seller in the NFL as the season opens. This morning, Kaepernick posted a thanks on Instagram saying, “I wasn’t expecting my jersey sales to jump to number one because of this, but it shows the people’s belief that we can achieve justice and equality for ALL! The only way I can repay you for the support is to return the favor by donating all the proceeds I receive from my jersey sales back into the communities! I believe in the people, and WE can be the change!”
The 49ers kept Kaepernick on their final 53-man roster, so expect this national anthem controversy to continue raging as the NFL season kicks off this weekend. In fact, expect it to rage particularly hard for the 49ers’ first game. They play on ESPN’s Monday Night Football on with the entire country watching, and watching what Kaepernick does during the national anthem.