The San Francisco 49ers got absolutely stomped by the Buffalo Bills Sunday afternoon, allowing three touchdowns in the fourth quarter for a final score of 45-16, sending the hapless 49ers home with a 1-5 record. No one outside of Buffalo really cared about that, though.
The game got attention for being Colin Kaepernick’s first start of the 2016 season. The quarterback showed up to the stadium and attended a postgame press conference in a Muhammad Ali t-shirt. When asked about the decision to wear the shirt, Kaepernick responded:
“To pay homage. He was someone that fought a very similar fight and was trying to do what is right for the people. And for me to have someone like that come before me, that is huge. He is someone that helped pave the way for this to happen. What he did and what he stood for, people remember him more for that than they do as a boxer. I can’t let him die in vain; I have to try to carry that on and try to fight that same fight until we accomplish our goal.”
On the field, Kaepernick completed 13 of 29 pass attempts, including a 53-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith (through blown coverage by the Bills). Kaepernick did take off running eight times, finishing with 66 rushing yards (more than running back Carlos Hyde, who was choked by the Bills’ defense and finished with 52 yards on 14 carries).
It was an ugly game for the Niners, and the scene in Buffalo appeared to have been even worse. Robert Klemko of MMQB tweeted scenes outside the Bills stadium of Bills fans selling t-shirts with a rifle scope trained on a photo of Kaepernick, and fans tackling a dummy dressed as Kaepernick, yelling “tackle the Muslim” about the quarterback covered in Jesus tattoos.
Naturally, reporters asked Kaepernick a lot of questions about social justice, along with questions about the tenor of the locker room and if Kaepernick thinks he’ll get another chance to start.
In his weekly column, MMQB’s Peter King speculated that the 49ers might be frustrated with Kaepernick after he spent most of his postgame presser talking about social justice issues:
“I don’t begrudge Kaepernick for being politically active, and I didn’t see his post-game presser. But I read the transcript. He talked with more passion about the movement than about his first start of the year. [...] I don’t get why he’s more strident about this—after the game—than he is about the football game. If I’m Chip Kelly, that would bug me.”
Of course there were a lot of questions about the protests. It was an away game, with national reporters present to write the narrative: Embattled Quarterback Makes First Start Since He Became A Shepherd Of A National Conversation About Race. It seems odd to criticize Kaepernick for answering questions that were asked of him, but maybe King would have preferred Kaepernick to respond to every question about social justice with “I’m here to talk about football, next question.”
Kaepernick did talk about football, though there wasn’t really much to say. The 49ers suck. They show no potential to not suck. And the players they have available suck, and there’s not really anything anyone on the field can do about that.
Kaepernick acknowledged that the Niners couldn’t finish drives, instead settling for field goals. “If we finished those with touchdowns, the outlook of the game is different and it plays out differently.” He hedged on a question about the feeling in the locker room after starting 1-5, saying everyone needs to work to be “on the same page.”
But Kaepernick’s most impassioned response came after being asked about some Bills fans reportedly kneeling in support of his protest.
“That’s huge. I think it’s something that, once again, people are realizing this is a real issue that affects many people. It is something that has to be addressed. Until us as people recognize and address that some of us have privilege, some of us don’t. Some of us are able to do certain things without consequences and others of us can’t. Those are all things that need to be addressed. Me, as a black man that plays football and is considered a celebrity is treated differently than a black man that is working a 9-5 in the hood. That’s just the reality of it and it shouldn’t be that I am treated any differently than that person. And it shouldn’t be that I’m treated differently than that person or that he is treated differently than me. We’re human beings and that needs to be something that everybody is treated that way.”
Kaepernick said he did not pay attention to the things being yelled at him by Bills fans, saying he was “focused on football so I wasn’t really listening to what was going on in the stands.”
He said it was not for him to say whether or not he will be the team’s starting quarterback going forward, adding that “I went out and played as hard as I could and gave this team everything I had. I will continue to do that every week they let me.”