For families that have lost loved ones to police violence, Colin Kaepernick’s stance—and the owner’s collusion to blackball him—is deeply personal.
Alton Sterling’s family has always felt connected to Kaepernick in a special way.
Kaepernick’s game-day protests and locker room declaration that “there are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” was not his first display of public resistance. Many forget his very first public comments came via Instagram more than a month earlier, and were sparked by Sterling’s execution in 2016 by Baton Rouge police.
“I think it’s crazy they won’t let (Kaepernick) play”, said Veda Sterling the aunt of Alton Sterling. “I don’t follow sports like that, but I do know this: I know they’re all trash”.
She is referring to NFL owners.
“They don’t care about anything”, she continued. “They care about money. That’s all they care about. They don’t care about the people. They don’t care about Alton and they still don’t care about Alton. They don’t care about black people, period. They never have and they never will”
At that time of Sterling’s death, Kaepernick posted: “This is what lynchings look like in 2016! When will they be held accountable?”
Veda Sterling has never forgotten. “It broke me down,” she said of the first time Kaepernick spoke out.
Nearly four years later, there has been no justice. Blane Salamoni, the cop who executed Alton Sterling on video, literally got a paid vacation. And this happened even after additional police cam video was quietly released in 2018 showing a maniacal Salamoni pointing his gun at Sterling’s head and repeatedly threaten to “shoot your fucking ass, bitch,” and “shoot you in your fucking head.”
None of these outrageous videos led to a conviction, or even an arrest of either of the officers involved — not even, technically, a firing. In Salamoni’s 2019 settlement, he was able to “voluntarily resign” from the Baton Rouge Police Department. This allows him to apply to other police departments without the need to disclose that he was fired from the BRPD.
While sports media often gets mired in faux debates on flags and feelings, for Veda Sterling, the NFL owners’ blackballing of Kaepernick amounts to open support for the execution of her nephew, and much more.
“They can’t see the forest for the trees,” she said. “The owners are not seeing anything. They’re not seeing any part of it, they’re just like the police to me.”
I asked Sterling what she meant when she said “they are not seeing.”
“They don’t see the pain we go through,” she said. “My son took me to the hospital. They kept me there for 15 hours. The psychiatrist came to talk to me, and I laid it out for him.”
She said she showed the psychiatrist all of the Facebook and Instagram pictures of people killed by police who were never held accountable since 2015.
His answer, according to Veda Sterling: “He said oh my God. He said you’re not crazy. You’re hurt.”
For families like the Sterlings, Kaepernick’s protest is not just “a stance,” it’s medicine for the hurt.
But it’s not nearly enough. Veda Sterling is part of a nationally invisible support network of parents who lost family to unaccountable police violence. On March 12th, Sterling was one of many parents gathered in Minneapolis in support of Kimberly Handy-Jones, the mother of Cordale Handy, a man fatally shot by St. Paul police officers in 2017. Handy-Jones has refiled her lawsuit against the city and the police department.
“People only know half the story,” said Sterling. “They don’t know that we’re fighting for justice for all loved ones, but we still have our own life and our own infirmities we have to endure day after day.”
These families weren’t the only ones impacted by Kaepernick. In the first year after Kaepernick protested police brutality, ThinkProgress reported that at least 49 NFL players, and close to 980 other athletes participated in some type of Kaepernick-related protest during the national anthem at high school, college or professional games.
Veda Sterling wants to see more.
“Where are his teammates?”, asked Sterling. “I would like to see more [players] support their brother Kaepernick. I would like to see them show more respect for him. Money ain’t everything. You gotta stand for something, or you will fall for anything”.
She also expressed emphatic appreciation for Eric Reid, one of only a handful of NFL players who have publicly supported Kaepernick.
“I love Eric Reid because he is real,” says Sterling. “He is his brother’s keeper. I love Eric Reid for having his brother’s back.”
She continued: “Kaepernick did nothing wrong. [Owners] need to remember what type of player he was. To see what he brought to the table. They need to see the man. He took a knee against police brutality for us. He loves football and they should let him play.”