Beyond the National Anthem: This NFL Quarterback is Also Giving for Racial Justice

Colin Kaepernick’s name has been in the news a lot lately, and it has very little to do with how he’s playing as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. The NFL player started taking a knee during the national anthem as a statement against racial oppression and discrimination. And then he took the charity route by launching a Million Dollar Pledge through his foundation to donate $1 million plus the proceeds of his jersey sales to organizations working to fight racial injustice. 

Given how safe many star athletes tend to play it with their philanthropy—that is, those who give at all—Kaepernick is breaking some and new important ground, here. 

Now, Kaepernick has turned his attention to Chicago, a city that’s lately been in the news for its sky-high murder rate, as well as chronic police violence toward people of color. Kaepernick’s foundation recently awarded $25,000 to Chicago’s own Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, whose mission is "to assist low-income people of color in the Chicago Southland to build power, then subsequently leverage that power to fight for their own interest and liberation."

The group plans to use the money to establish a council for teenagers and offer skill-building training. Youth causes have emerged as a priority for Kaepernick. The nonprofit will also use the money to address police-involved shootings, an issue near and dear to Kaepernick’s heart.

The NFL player has been criticized for being anti-police, but this particular organization has stuck up for him and suggested that he's only recognizing that over-policing in black communities is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.

Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation's organizer, Willie Preston, said:

I think a lot of folks in my group, and many other organizations, are really happy that [him] simply taking a knee drew so much attention towards a much-needed discussion about police violence in America. I can certainly say [we] appreciate him being able to generate that much attention to this issue. It wasn't receiving nearly as much attention as it deserved.

So why Chicago and not San Francisco?

That’s a good question, but the 29-year-old is just getting started with his philanthropic endeavors. Thus far, he is a single-issue philanthropist who is deeply focused on racial justice. This is a nationwide issue that knows no state boundaries, but reports out of Chicago lately about police brutality have been especially troubling. 

Kaepernick has also given money in New York and made comments about investing in youth causes. For example, he and his radio personality girlfriend donated $60,000 worth of book bags to kids in Harlem and the South Bronx.

Notably, Kaepernick was born in Milwaukee and lived in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin as a child, so he’s no stranger to the Midwest. He was also drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 43rd round of the 2009 Major League Baseball draft, but he chose to play football instead of signing with the Cubs. However, some in Chicago have a bone to pick with Kaepernick about kneeling during the national anthem, and some even rallied to protest his disrespect for America before the Bears-49ers game in early December.

For a young NFL player, Kaepernick certainly has some clear ideas about the impact he seeks with his philanthropy. Last September, he made the following statement in regard to directing his money to organizations that share his goals:

That's part of the reason we are being very careful and very meticulous with what we're doing to make sure that the organizations that we are working with are grassroots and the money is going to the communities that we want it to go to and helping the people that we want it to help. Because there's a lot of foundations and organizations where a fraction of the money that you donate goes to what the actual cause is and a lot of it is spent on company expenses or whatever you want to call it. That's part of what we want to make sure we are not allowing to happen when making donations.