Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem is prompting protests over a display at the Reno airport that includes memorabilia from his days at the University of Nevada, where he was a star player before being drafted by the 49ers.
An official at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport said Wednesday that the airport has received more than a hundred angry messages by phone, email and social media from locals and travelers who want Kaepernick’s trophy, helmet and other memorabilia removed from the prominent display case. Others passing by have also offered disapproving hand gestures, hisses and venting in person.
“The toughest ones are the ones that come from veterans,” said Brian Kulpin, the airport’s spokesman. “There’s very strong feelings.”
Kaepernick said last week that he’s refusing to stand for the national anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities. The biracial Kaepernick has been outspoken on his Twitter account on civil rights issues and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kaepernick sat through the anthem during the 49ers’ three preseason games so far and said he intends to continue the protest during Thursday night’s preseason finale in San Diego and beyond.
While at Nevada, Kaepernick became the only player in NCAA history with three seasons of 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing. He was drafted by San Francisco in 2011.
Kulpin said the community airport has never seen such an outcry as the one prompted by Kaepernick’s things.
The 20-foot-long glass display case at the airport highlights the University of Nevada in Reno, including its history and academics and sports programs. Featured in the primary concourse and visible to all passengers who go through security, Kulpin said the decorative display has always been popular, especially the Kaepernick items that were added about three years ago.
“It’s the only thing in the public eye that is a shrine to Colin Kaepernick,” Kulpin said.
The display’s contents are owned and managed by the university and are due for an update in the coming months. There was a brief mix-up on Monday when the Kaepernick items were removed temporarily for a cleaning and then placed back in the display.
Nevada associate athletic director Chad Hartley said changes had long been planned and they are unrelated to the Kaepernick firestorm, though the school hasn’t been immune to the feedback.
“We’ve seen some messages. We’ve heard from fans. But we’ve heard on both and all sides of the issue,” Hartley said.
Charger stands with flag
On the Chargers sideline at Qualcomm Stadium will stand another football player, also African-American.
This player, fullback Chris Swain, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy.
Swain said his eyes will not be on the red-white-and-gold-clad Kaepernick attired in jersey No. 7.
“No, that won’t be my focus during the national anthem,” he said. “My focus will be on the American flag, and I’ll be standing up, showing my respect for my country.”
Asked if the sight of Kaepernick sitting during the anthem would make him uncomfortable, Swain paused.
“Uncomfortable?” he said. “I’d rather not answer that.
“He exercised his right. He has the right to sit or stand during the national anthem. He can do whatever he wishes to do.”