Colin Kaepernick's protest could meet new scrutiny amid military salute

Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem could grow even more tense Thursday night.

With the San Francisco 49ers quarterback expected to be on the field for pregame festivities before the final preseason game against the Chargers at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium, Navy officers will perform the national anthem pregame while over 240 military personnel unfurl a "U.S. Super Flag.”

The scheduled event is part of the Chargers’ 28th annual Salute to the Military, which was planned before Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem before last week’s game against the Green Bay Packers.

Kaepernick, who is expected to start, has clarified that he is protesting the oppression of African Americans and police brutality but has expressed support for servicemen. But Robert Muth, chair of the San Diego Veterans Coalition, said the 49ers quarterback should not expect a chorus of cheers before the game.

“I would not be surprised if there were some boo birds out when he’s announced,’’ Muth told USA TODAY Sports. “Most people here do have a connection to the military, whether if they served themselves or have close friends or family who have served. Issues like this are always going to be front and center.”

The issue of Kaepernick’s social activism is front and center this week in the sports world — and beyond. Although most people were unaware of the quarterback’s actions until the day after Friday’s 49ers-Packers game, this week he figures to be closely watched during the national anthem — with his actions juxatosed against the sight of the huge American flag and active duty military personnel.

There will be no additional security at the stadium according to Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston. Spokesmen for the NFL, 49ers and San Diego Police Department declined to answer questions about security for Kaepernick.

Shawn VanDiver, who spent 12 years in the Navy and remains active in the San Diego military community, said he will not be among those booing Kaepernick.

“I hope that he gets a wonderful reception,’’ VanDiver said. “I and other veterans fought so he can have his free speech rights, so that all Americans can have their free speech rights, their freedom to protest.

“It just seems silly to me that we’re talking about a dude exercising his free speech rights, especially when it’s very clear we do have a problem in our country with police killing black Americans.’’

VanDiver also is among those aware of the comments the 49ers quarterback made about the military.

"I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country," Kaepernick told reporters Sunday in the 49ers locker room. "I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom. They fight for the people. They fight for liberty and justice for everyone.

“That's not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn't holding their end of the bargain up as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everyone. …

"I've seen videos, I've seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they have fought for and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That's not right."

But the Chargers have planned a very different way to acknowledge veterans.

At halftime, the team will recognize six Vietnam veterans as a remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the war. Wounded warriors will be among the special guests when a fireworks show wraps up halftime festivities. And at the start of the third quarter, petty officer first class Steven Powell will perform God Bless America.

Maurice Wilson, a retired chief petty officer in San Diego, said he hopes the town shows respect for Kaepernick’s First Amendment rights.

“If he were criticizing the military directly, I could see a huge conflict there,’’ said Wilson, president and executive director of the National Veterans Transition Services, Inc. “But at the same time, it would be somewhat hypocritical for me to tell him, ‘Now I fought for you, but you can only use this and you can’t say that and you can’t do this and you can’t do that.’

“It doesn’t mean that I appreciate it. It doesn’t mean that I agree with him. But I just don’t think it’s significant enough for me to get up and start booing him because he’s exercising his rights like that.’’

When asked what he expects from the crowd at Qualcomm Thursday night, Wilson predicted half the fans will support Kaepernick.

“There will be some people that will probably boo, that will be mad and be angry because that’s just the way the population is,’’ he said. “At the end of the day, everybody’s there for the game more so than the politics, if you will.’’


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