Knee to the Grindstone: How Colin Kaepernick Overcame a Privileged Upbringing and Found Success as a Professional Activist

REVIEW: 'Colin Kaepernick: Change the Game' by Colin Kaepernick

March 19, 2023

Teenagers are obnoxious brats who put their parents through hell. Most of us eventually grow up and realize there isn't a massive conspiracy to ruin our lives with petty injustices. Others grow up but never change because acting like an obnoxious brat besieged by petty injustices can be a lucrative and emotionally satisfying career path.

Colin Kaepernick falls into one of these categories. The former NFL quarterback, best known for kneeling in protest during the national anthem (after losing his job as a starter), has become a celebrated activist, brand ambassador, and media tycoon since declaring himself a victim of racism. (Fact check: He wasn't good enough and no NFL coach in his right mind would welcome such a glaring distraction into the locker room.)

Like most liberal activists and professional grievance-mongers, Kaepernick's career really took off after Donald Trump was elected president. He signed a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Nike—the iconic sports apparel brand that profits from Chinese slave labor—and produced an autobiographical Netflix series, Colin in Black and White, which compared the NFL Draft to chattel slavery. He also published a children's book, I Color Myself Different, about how a brown crayon changed his life by teaching him to celebrate his "Black identity through the power of radical self-love."

Kaepernick's latest offering, Colin Kaepernick: Change the Game, is a graphic novel memoir about his efforts to "find himself" as a gifted high-school athlete cursed with an abundance of scholarship offers for a sport (baseball) he considered too "white." He is also forced to confront the "racism" of his white adoptive parents, who are portrayed as villains in the story. For example, they didn't encourage their son's decision to get cornrows, fearing it would make him look "unprofessional" or "like a little thug."

It is one of many examples of how Kaepernick insists on casting himself as a victim. A run-of-the-mill conflict between a rebellious teenager and his fuddy-duddy parents is framed as a systemic injustice. "I think it was important to show that, no, this can happen in your home, and how you move forward collectively while addressing the racism that is being perpetuated," he said last week in an interview with CBS. "I know my parents loved me, but there were still very problematic things that I went through."

Presumably not as problematic as the things he would have gone through if Rick and Teresa Kaepernick hadn't adopted him as an infant after his 19-year-old mother gave him away. His father (identity unknown) absconded before he was born. But because the prevailing cultural discourse in this country is one that promotes identity-based grievance above all else, Kaepernick is compelled to imbue his relatively privileged upbringing with the woke sensibilities of the present day. It is all angst, without a hint of reflection as to how fortunate he was to be raised by loving parents.

"My dad was the one who drove me to practices and camps, so we spent hours and hours in the car together," Kaepernick writes. This was annoying, he implies, because his dad always wanted to talk or listen to country music. Several pages later, he complains about being "bombarded" by pundits who talked about absent black fathers. He was also annoyed when his adoptive dad tried to have awkward conversations about girls.

One of Kaepernick's public critics, the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg, denounced his national anthem protest in 2016 as "stupid," "arrogant," and "disrespectful." She also said kneeling during the anthem was a show of "contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life, which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from." That part was revealed more than a year after her death in 2021 because so-called journalist Katie Couric wanted to "protect" the justice's reputation as a "crusader for equality."

Several months after Ginsburg attacked their son, Kaepernick's racist parents issued a statement offering their full support. "Colin is carrying a heavy load and following a difficult path that he truly believes in," they wrote. "We want people to know that we are very proud of our son and admire his strength and courage in kneeling for the rights of others." They also defended him from scolds who criticized his tattoos.

What monsters.

"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything." So reads the slogan for one of Kaepernick's lucrative Nike ad campaigns. He clearly believes himself to be the victim of racial injustice. He might even believe he has sacrificed everything, if by "everything" we are talking about several more years in the NFL as an unheralded backup quarterback.

At the very least, Kaepernick must feel guilty about the fact that he would score relatively high according to the various inane metrics by which "privilege" is determined. He didn't have to overcome hardships such as extreme poverty, domestic dysfunction, physical disability, Islamophobia, fatphobia, and so on. But his parents were kind of awkward, and he overcame their microaggressions while narrowly avoiding a career in professional baseball rather than football. You can read all about it in this picture book he is selling for money.

Poor kid.

Colin Kaepernick: Change the Game
by Colin Kaepernick
Graphix, 144 pp., $14.99