Jim Harbaugh has named former 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick as honorary captain of Michigan’s spring game this upcoming weekend, making waves across the national CFB fandom by taking what appears to be a pretty solid pro-Kap stance in a decidedly anti-Kap sport.
After protesting against racial injustice in the United States by taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016, there was an unofficial NFL-wide freeze against hiring him. He has remained iced out of the league ever since, despite Kaepernick’s public statements that he has been working to remain in NFL-level shape in case a team is ready to sign him.
And while people can argue that Harbaugh isn’t taking a political stance in inviting Kap to the Maize and Blue game, as Kaepernick was Harbaugh’s QB with the 49ers between 2011 and 2014 and even reached a Super Bowl together, the ongoing shun and continued ire against Kaepernick from NFL fans and front offices alike makes it a political statement by nature.
A professional relationship is the foundation of the invitation, no doubt, but it’s a big deal for Harbaugh to make this call, particularly given his history and current connections to the NFL. It would be foolish to pretend it’s not. He’s publicly challenging the league’s worst-kept secret that’s front-and-center of the public eye, as Michigan comes off a top-5 finish to their season. Aside from meeting with the players, the former 49ers QB will also have a throwing exhibition at halftime.
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Harbaugh’s history as related to Kap’s activism has taken a carefully developed path. When Kap first made headlines for kneeling in 2016, Harbaugh said, “I acknowledge his right to do that, but I don’t respect the motivation or the action.” Only minutes later, he amended his statement, writing, “To clarify, I support Colin’s motivation. It’s his method of action that I take exception to.”
A year later, he amended his stance yet again, writing in an op-ed for Time Magazine,
“At times in our nation’s history, we have been all too quick to judge and oppose our fellow Americans for exercising their First Amendment right to address things they believe unjust. Rather than besmirch their character, we must celebrate their act. For we cannot pioneer and invent if we are fearful of deviating from the norm, damaging our public perception or — most important — harming our own personal interests. I thank Colin for all he has contributed to the game of football as an outstanding player and trusted teammate. I also applaud Colin for the courage he has demonstrated in exercising his guaranteed right of free speech. His willingness to take a position at personal cost is now part of our American story. How lucky for us all and for our country to have among our citizens someone as remarkable as Colin Kaepernick.”
In 2020, following the murder of George Floyd, Harbaugh attended an anti-police brutality protest in Ann Arbor alongside several assistant coaches. He’s been a vocal supporter of the same issues that Kaepernick took so much heat for protesting about, and it’s no mere 49ers coincidence that he would choose this moment to invite Kap to be an honorary captain at a public event for the Wolverines.