I think one of the biggest problems with our country today is that everybody is sure. I was sure that the Los Angeles Rams would always be my favorite team. As soon as I popped out of the womb, my dad started taking me to their games. Even though they had good players like Eric Dickerson, Jim Everett and Jackie Slater, it wasn’t easy rooting for the Rams because it always seemed like the team from northern California was better. The Rams might have won in the regular season, but the 49ers were always better in the postseason. Nevertheless my passion for the Rams never wavered until I learned as a very young man that sports is a business. Business moved my beloved team out of town. People are supposed to disappoint you. Parents’ jobs are supposed to move you. Divorces break up families. But your favorite team never leaves you. I was crushed as the Rams left Southern California and headed to St. Louis. I was sure that I would never love another NFL team as long as I lived. I actually became the anti-fan. If your favorite team was the Steelers, I rooted that week for whomever the Steelers were playing.
About the time the Rams left, I left as well and headed from Southern California to Reno. I soon had a new favorite team to root for: the Pack! I came along at the perfect time to witness the magic of Chris Vargas. In 1991 it was a 35-point comeback against Weber State, and in 1993 I watched him lead the nation in passing yards. I was sure he was my favorite UNR player of all time, and he was until 2007. That year a redshirt freshman was thrown into a game after an injury to the starting quarterback. Colin Kaepernick entered in the second quarter and passed for 384 yards, threw 4 TDs and rushed for 60 yards in a 49–41 loss to Fresno State. I was sure Kaep was my new favorite player. Kaepernick did not disappoint me over his career at UNR. He was more than once the WAC offensive player of the year and the first player in NCAA history to record back-to-back 2,000/1,000-yard seasons. And yes, I did rush the field on his final game at Mackay Stadium when the Pack stunned unbeaten Boise State and broke the team’s 24-game winning streak.
And what a break — the team in the city I live in, the San Francisco 49ers, drafted him. My favorite player coming to my city, I was sure I was now a fan of the NFL again. Kaep did not play a lot in the first year, but in that second year, a familiar thing happened. The starting quarterback got hurt and Kaepernick got his chance. I remember boldly announcing to my co-workers on the day Kaep got his first start against the Bears on Monday night football that Kaep would win the game that night and lead the team to the Super Bowl. He sure did!
Kaep followed the Super Bowl season with another great year leading the team to the NFC Championship. I was sure Kaepernick was going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I was sure Kaep was on his way to becoming our most famous alumnus because of his football ability.
After a few down years, some injuries, coaching changes and a tense relationship with the 49ers organization, Kaepernick is no longer the best player on the team. I was sure his best days were behind him. But then, Kaep took a stand, actually a knee, refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest of what he deems are wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States. Most people are sure that he’s either a villain ripping our country apart or a hero for standing up to racial inequality.
For once in my life, I’m not sure. I see the average wealth of white families growing by 84 percent, three times the growth of the black population. I read that 1 in every 15 African-American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men. A black driver is roughly 31 percent more likely to be pulled over by police than a white driver.
I also know that if someone very close to you died fighting for our country in a war, it would be hurtful to watch someone snub our national anthem. If my brother died in the line of duty as a cop pulling someone over, if my friend lost his life running into a burning building as a firefighter, if my dad never came home from a mission as a national security officer … it would not be easy to witness someone disrespecting our symbol of freedom.
I’m simply not sure what Kaep’s actions mean to me right now. What I am sure of is that I am thankful he started the dialogue. Kaep’s actions led the nightly news, graced the cover of Time Magazine and have sports-talk radio buzzing constantly. Our country is talking about race thanks to this quarterback who spent five of his formative years living and learning in Reno. I’m now sure his biggest accomplishments will come from off the field.
If you’re not sure if people have an opinion on Kaepernick or not, throw on a 49ers jersey with number seven on the back and walk around town. I’m sure that someone will tell you what they think.
Larry Olson is a UNR alumnus. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @The Sagebrush.