Colin Kaepernick’s rise from quarterback to social activist: a timeline

The former 49ers quarterback started a movement when he took a knee, and the rest was history

When then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit (and later kneel) for the national anthem during the 2016 NFL preseason, it started a chain of events that eventually led to Kaepernick filing a grievance against league owners for collusion and, most recently, being presented a Muhammad Ali Legacy Award by Beyoncé.

As we look back at the year that was athlete activism, from creating the Players Coalition in professional football to the NBA champions refusing to visit the Trump White House, The Undefeated goes back to where it all began with Kaepernick the summer of 2016, providing a month-by-month timeline of the quarterback’s fight for equality and against the NFL.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers drops back to pass against the Green Bay Packers in the first half of their preseason football game at Levi’s Stadium on Aug. 26, 2016, in Santa Clara, California.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Aug. 26, 2016

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sits for the national anthem during the team’s third preseason game, telling NFL Media, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Aug. 29, 2016

Presidential candidate Donald Trump says Kaepernick maybe “should find a country that works better for him” because kneeling for the anthem is “not a good thing.”

Aug. 31, 2016

An NFL executive tells Bleacher Report, “F— that guy” in response to Kaepernick’s protest.

Eric Reid (left) and Colin Kaepernick (center) of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline during the anthem, as free agent Nate Boyer stands, before the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Sept. 1, 2016, in San Diego. The 49ers defeated the Chargers, 31-21.

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Sept. 2, 2016

Kaepernick pledges $1 million of his salary to various social activism organizations. “I’ve been very blessed to be in this position and make the kind of money I do, and I have to help these people. I have to help these communities,” he told reporters.

Megan Rapinoe (right) kneels during the national anthem before the match between the United States and the Netherlands at Georgia Dome on Sept. 18, 2016, in Atlanta.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Sept. 4, 2016

Women’s soccer player Megan Rapinoe becomes first white athlete to join Kaepernick in kneeling during the anthem.

Sept. 21, 2016

Kaepernick says he’s received death threats via “a couple of different avenues” in response to his demonstrations, adding that “if something like that were to happen, you’ve proved my point and it will be loud and clear for everyone why it happened and that would move this movement forward at a greater speed than what it is even now.”

Sept. 21, 2016

Every player on the WNBA’s Indiana Fever locks arms and kneels while two players from the Phoenix Mercury also kneel during the anthem before a playoff game.

Sept. 22, 2016

Time magazine puts Kaepernick on its cover with the headline The Perilous Fight.

Oct. 7, 2016

Kaepernick and the 49ers agree to restructure his contract, eliminating the final four years of the deal and giving the team more financial flexibility in the event Kaepernick was injured.

Colin Kaepernick (center) of the San Francisco 49ers rushes during the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field Oct. 16, 2016, in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills defeated the 49ers, 45-16.

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Oct. 11, 2016

Kaepernick starts first game of the season during Week 6 versus the Buffalo Bills, throwing for 187 yards and one touchdown and rushing for an additional 66 yards in a 45-16 loss.

Nov. 8, 2016

Kaepernick chooses not to vote in the presidential election because “the system still remains intact that oppresses people of color.”

Dec. 10, 2016

Teresa and Rick Kaepernick, Kaepernick’s parents, tell The Undefeated they support their son’s protest and they “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.”

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Dec. 18, 2016, in Atlanta.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Dec. 18, 2016

Former NFL quarterback Chris Simms predicts Kaepernick won’t be in the NFL in 2017 “because the NFL is the ultimate right wing, Republican league there is.”

Dec. 30, 2016

Kaepernick is voted by his teammates as the winner of the Len Eshmont Award, given to a player on the team who “best exemplifies the inspirational and courageous play of Len Eshmont, an original member of the 1946 49ers team.”

Colin Kaepernick (center) of the San Francisco 49ers fires the team up on the field before the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi Stadium on Jan. 1, 2017, in Santa Clara, California.

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Jan. 1, 2017

Kaepernick plays what will be his last game for the 49ers, throwing for 215 yards and one touchdown in a 25-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. “I can’t express how grateful I am to have teammates like I did this year,” Kaepernick said after the game. “They stood behind me, regardless of any situation that went on.”

Feb. 21, 2017

New 49ers general manager John Lynch on possibly re-signing Kaepernick: “Every time we talk about Kap, I think of the guy that was in the Super Bowl. … That wasn’t that far away.”

March 2, 2017

Kaepernick says he will stand for the anthem during the 2017 season and going forward, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

March 3, 2017

Kaepernick opts out of the final season of his contract with the 49ers, becoming a free agent.

March 17, 2017

An anonymous general manager says NFL teams are avoiding signing Kaepernick because “they think there might be protests or [President Donald] Trump will tweet about the team.”

March 20, 2017

Trump boasts about the claim that NFL owners fear a tweet from him. “There was an article today, it was reported, that NFL owners don’t want to pick him up because they don’t want to get a nasty tweet from Donald Trump, do you believe that?” he told a crowd at a Louisville, Kentucky, rally.

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick (left) and safety Eric Reid (right) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Santa Clara, California. Reid says his Christian faith is the reason that he joined then-teammate Kaepernick in kneeling for the anthem.

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

April 26, 2017

Former 49ers teammate Eric Reed says he will not continue kneeling for the national anthem going forward because “our goal was to open up the floor to conversation. I believe we’ve achieved that goal.”

May 24, 2017

Kaepernick visits the Seahawks, the first and only team he has publicly visited since becoming a free agent.

May 31, 2017

Lynch says the 49ers were planning to release Kaepernick if he hadn’t opted out of his contract. “Yes, [he would have been cut] and we had that conversation with him,” the general manager told Pro Football Talk.

June 2, 2017

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll says Kaepernick is “a starter in this league, and I can’t imagine that someone won’t give him a chance to play.”

June 5, 2017

The Seahawks sign quarterback Austin Davis, who missed the entire 2016 season.

July 27, 2017

Schefter says he believes individual team owners are blocking coaches and their front offices from signing Kaepernick.

July 30, 2017

After starting quarterback Joe Flacco injures his back, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh says Kaepernick is “a really good football player” who the team would consider signing.

People participate in a rally against the NFL, supporting Colin Kaepernick in New York City Aug. 23, 2017.

Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Aug. 1, 2017

Kaepernick comes in at No. 39 in the NFL’s official top 50 merchandise sales, the only free agent to do so.

Aug. 21, 2017

Cleveland Browns tight end Seth DeValve becomes first white NFL player to kneel for the national anthem.

Aug. 23, 2017

More than 1,500 demonstrators convene outside the NFL headquarters in New York City for the United We Stand: Rally for Colin Kaepernick.

Sept. 5, 2017

Former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis says the team considered signing Kaepernick until Nessa Diab, Kaepernick’s partner, tweeted out an image comparing Lewis and Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti to two characters in Django Unchained.

Sept. 17, 2017

An entire Illinois Pee Wee football team made up of 8-year-olds kneels during the anthem.

Sept. 20, 2017

Yahoo! Sports publishes a 2,740-word document drafted by Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins and receiver Torrey Smith, and former NFL receiver Anquan Boldin requesting league support for player social activism causes.

Sept. 29, 2017

Iowa high school football player Darius Moore kneels during the anthem and is called the N-word a week later by a schoolmate on social media site Snapchat.

Sept. 30, 2017

Some members of the Kennesaw State cheerleading squad take a knee to protest racial injustice.

The Howard University cheerleading squad (from left to right: Alex Jones, Sydney Stallworth, Kianna Robinson, and Jade Watson) takes a knee during the playing of the national anthem before their football game against North Carolina Central University at Greene Stadium in Northwest Washington, D.C.

Andrew Mangum for The Undefeated

Oct. 7, 2017

The Howard cheerleading squad takes a knee before a football game against North Carolina A&T, which catches the eye of the New York Times.

Oct. 12, 2017

Division III football player Gyree Durante is dismissed from Albright College program for kneeling during anthem.

Oct. 16, 2017

Kaepernick files a grievance against NFL owners for collusion, accusing the league and its owners of colluding “to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”

Oct. 17, 2017

League executives, team owners and players meet about community activism and the league policy on standing for the anthem.

Oct. 25, 2017

Kaepernick is reportedly invited to a second players-owners meeting, but the quarterback’s lawyer says no formal invitation was sent to Kaepernick.

Nov. 8, 2017

NFL meeting with Kaepernick falls through after the league rejects the quarterback’s request for a mediator to be present.

Nov. 13, 2017

Kaepernick named GQ magazine’s “Citizen of the Year.”

Nov. 29, 2017

NFL agrees to partner with its players to produce social justice change, pledging $89 million to causes important to the African-American community. Players Reid and Michael Thomas break from the Players Coalition.

Colin Kaepernick (right) receives the SI Muhammad Ali Legacy Award with Beyoncé (left) and Trevor Noah during the Sports Illustrated 2017 Sportsperson of the Year Show on Dec. 5, 2017, at Barclays Center in New York City.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

Nov. 30, 2017

Kaepernick wins Sports Illustrated’s Muhammad Ali Legacy Award.

Dec. 3, 2017

Kaepernick receives a standing ovation as he accepts the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California’s Eason Monroe Courageous Advocate Award during its annual Bill of Rights dinner.

Dec. 5, 2017

Beyoncé presents Kaepernick with the Sports Illustrated award during a ceremony at the Barclays Center in New York.

Dec. 11, 2017

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell tells CNBC that he doesn’t believe Kaepernick is being blackballed by league owners.

Jan. 17, 2018

Kaepernick announces that he and a collection of friends will donate the final $100,000 of his $1 million pledge over 10 days.

Feb. 1, 2018

Kaepernick extends the donation period into the next month and eventually raises at least $460,000.

March 15, 2018

Kaepernick is spotted (and later posts videos of himself) throwing passes at a Houston workout facility, the first known footage of him working out since he opted into free agency.

March 16, 2018

Houston Texans owner Bob McNair is deposed in Kaepernick’s collusion grievance case.

Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson, recently released from a nine-year prison term, says Kaepernick “made a bad choice in attacking the flag.”

April 12, 2018

The Seahawks postpone an in-person visit to the team’s headquarters after Kaepernick wouldn’t assure them that he wouldn’t kneel for the upcoming season, according to Schefter.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is deposed in Kaepernick’s collusion grievance case.

Stephen Morris of the Indianapolis Colts in action against the Pittsburgh Steelers during a preseason game on Aug. 26, 2017, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

April 13, 2018

The Seahawks sign quarterback Stephen Morris, who has never played in an NFL game.

May 24, 2018

NFL unanimously approve a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field or stay in the locker room during the performance if they choose not to stand.

July 19, 2018

The Miami Dolphins say they could suspend players up to four games for not standing for the anthem. A day later, the league and NFL Players Association announce the new anthem policy will not be “enforced” until the two sides come to an agreement.

Aug. 2, 2018

Electronic Arts, maker of the Madden NFL video game franchise, removes a reference to Kaepernick’s name from rapper YG’s song “Big Bank,” which is used in the soundtrack of the game. The video game company later apologizes for the omission, calling it an “unfortunate mistake” due to a misunderstanding of the rights to use Kaepernick’s name.

Sept. 3, 2018

Nike taps Kaepernick as one of the faces of its 30th anniversary celebration of the iconic “Just Do It” campaign, using the quarterback in social ads and television commercials.

Sept. 20, 2018

Mark Geragos, Kaepernick’s attorney, insinuates to TMZ that at least two NFL teams are interested in signing his client to a contract.

Oct. 10, 2018

Kaepernick files trademark for a black-and-white image of his face and hair with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Oct. 11, 2018

Harvard University awards Kaepernick with its W.E.B. Du Bois Medal for “contributions to African and African-American culture and the life of the mind.”

Oct. 12, 2018

The 49ers apologize for omitting images of Kaepernick from its online photo gallery celebrating the team’s history against the Green Bay Packers.

Dec. 5, 2018

Washington Redskins head coach Jay Gruden says the team discussed signing Kaepernick after season-ending injuries to starter Alex Smith and backup Colt McCoy but decided against it because “There’s not a lot of time to get a brand-new quarterback and system installed in a couple of days.”

Jan. 10

A survey by The Athletic finds that 95 percent of NFL defensive players believe Kaepernick should be on a roster.

Jan. 16

Multiple close associates of Kaepernick push back on report that he and rapper Travis Scott had “mutual respect and understanding” after Scott spoke to Kaepernick over the phone about performing during halftime of the Super Bowl.

Liner Notes

This story has been updated since its original publication on Dec. 29, 2017, to reflect recent events.

Martenzie Johnson is a senior writer for Andscape. His favorite cinematic moment is when Django said, "Y'all want to see somethin?"