SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Colin Kaepernick will get one more chance to impress coach Chip Kelly before the San Francisco 49ers announce their starting quarterback even as the debate surrounding Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem remains heated.
Kelly said Tuesday that Kaepernick will play in the team’s final exhibition game Thursday night in San Diego after missing the first two preseason games with a tired shoulder. This will be Kaepernick’s first game since he spoke publicly over his anthem protest, saying he won’t stand during the anthem because of what he described as oppression of minorities in the United States.
The 49ers declined to comment on whether there will be increased security in place for the game in San Diego when Kaepernick has said he once again will sit during the national anthem.
Blaine Gabbert, who is also in the running for the starting job, won’t play because he has gotten 30 more plays in the preseason and Kelly does not need to evaluate him further.
Kelly said he will pick a starter for the regular season opener against Los Angeles on Sept. 12 sometime after Thursday night’s game. He said Kaepernick remains one of his two best quarterbacks.
Despite that, Kelly said general manager Trent Baalke will make the final call on whether Kaepernick remains on the team’s roster after the cut to 53 players on Saturday.
“It’s not up to me,” Kelly said. “Any decisions on this team are made through everybody. I do not have control of the 53-man roster. I don’t sit there and say this is the 53 we’re picking. It’s a group effort.”
Kelly said he wasn’t sure how many quarterbacks the team will keep for the regular season. Rookie Jeff Driskel and Christian Ponder are the other two quarterbacks on the roster.
Kelly said the swirling drama around Kaepernick’s protest hasn’t hindered the team as it prepares for the new season despite an increased media attention since Kaepernick’s stance became public on Saturday.
“When you talk to our players, they’re focused on the 2016 season and how good a team the San Francisco 49ers can be,” Kelly said. “As we said all along, we recognize his right to express his feelings, but that doesn’t affect what we do from when we get here at 8:15 in the morning and leave at 8 o’clock at night.”
Perhaps the bigger issue when it comes to Kaepernick’s status on the team has been his declining play. After leading the team to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season and getting back to the NFC championship game the following year, Kaepernick’s play has regressed.
He ended up losing his starting job to Gabbert midway through last season and then underwent three operations in the offseason on his non-throwing shoulder, right thumb and left knee. He couldn’t participate in the offseason program and lost weight during his rehabilitation.
Kaepernick then missed nearly two weeks of training camp with a tired shoulder and was ineffective in his first appearance of the preseason last Friday night against Green Bay.
Kaepernick’s protest has drawn reaction from around the world from athletes, politicians and others. Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, a civil rights activist during his career, told NFL Network that Kaepernick makes “all the sense in the world” and that he stands behind him “100 percent.”
But Brown also said he would not choose to protest in this manner.
“Now if you ask me, ‘Would I do that?’ No I won’t, because I see it a little differently,” he said. “I’m an American citizen, I pay my taxes, I want my equal rights but this is my country, and consequently I don’t want to open up for ISIS or anybody that will take away what we’ve already gained.”
Hall of Fame basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, another activist from the 1960s, said it is more concerning that the country still faces many of the same issues that athletes like himself, Brown, boxer Muhammad Ali, and Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested nearly a half-century ago.
“What should horrify Americans is not Kaepernick’s choice to remain seated during the national anthem, but that nearly 50 years after Ali was banned from boxing for his stance and Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s raised fists caused public ostracization and numerous death threats, we still need to call attention to the same racial inequities,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote in the Washington Post on Tuesday. “Failure to fix this problem is what’s really un-American here.”