The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback repped a “Kunta Kinte” T-shirt as he showcased his skills at the Charles Drew High School football field in Riverdale, Georgia. The workout was previously set to be held at the Atlanta Falcons’ practice facility located an hour away, but was changed by Kaepernick at the last minute due to disagreements between his representatives and NFL organizers.
Kunta Kinte is the main character in Alex Haley’s 1976 novel “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” which became the basis for the 1977 ABC series “Roots.”
The iconic Kunta Kinte character was kidnapped from Africa and forced into slavery in the American South. He attempted and failed to escape four times, and was whipped in a famous scene for refusing to adopt the new name, “Toby,” imposed on him by his owner. The character, although fictional, has remained a theme in pop culture and was most notably championed by Kendrick Lamar in his song “King Kunta.”
Kaepernick’s decision to wear the shirt Saturday ― which appeared to be a statement about refusing to change or back down in the face of pressure from the NFL ― did not go unnoticed. While some fans praised Kaepernick, calling him a “legend,” applauding him for his “troll level 100,” and saying they had “so much respect for this man,” others were less impressed, calling out the athlete for using an inappropriate comparison for his situation.
The former San Francisco 49ers star sparked a nationwide movement when he began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racial injustice. He’s been out of the NFL since 2016 and settled a lawsuit with the league in February after he sued, alleging the organization blackballed him after the controversy.
“I’ve been ready for three years. I’ve been denied for three years. We all know why I came out here today and showed it in front of everybody. We have nothing to hide,” Kaepernick said after his workout on Saturday.
Representatives for 25 NFL teams had been scheduled to see Kaepernick before the last-minute change of location. Scouts for eight teams ended up appearing, and at least one NFL executive said Kaepernick’s arm strength was “elite.”
In a lengthy statement, the NFL said it was “disappointed” Kaepernick did not appear at his originally scheduled workout.
“Today’s session was designed to give Colin what he has consistently said he wants ― an opportunity to show his football readiness and desire to return to the NFL,” the statement said.
Other athletes and sports commentators had expressed skepticism ahead of the workout that the interest in getting Kaepernick back in the league was genuine, given the NFL’s longstanding reluctance in confronting racial issues.