The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick, whose refusal to stand for the national anthem spurred a wider protest among professional athletes over U.S. race relations, is under renewed scrutiny today as he plays his first game this season as starting quarterback.
As if to send a message that his commitment to his cause is unwavering, Kaepernick arrived in Buffalo for the game wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the image of boxing legend and civil rights icon Muhammad Ali.
The quarterback's designation as starter means he is back on the football field for the first time this year, putting a renewed focus on his politics and giving Buffalo Bills fans in their home stadium a chance to show their displeasure.
When Kaepernick took the field, with his now iconic Afro sticking out from the back of his helmet, the rowdy Buffalo crowd showered him with boos and chanted "USA."
Prior to the game, T-shirts bearing Kaepernick's image with a target around it and other souvenirs mocking him for kneeling during the national anthem were sold in the parking lot of the city's New Era field, according to social media posts. One fan apparently spear-tackled a dummy wearing Kaepernick's uniform and an Afro wig.
LeSean McCoy, a Bills running back, invited Buffalo-area police to attend the game -- a gesture he described as "an appreciation type of thing."
Kaepernick's protest, noticed by the media this summer during the NFL preseason, spread throughout the league and to other sports, including some at the high school level. It has sparked intense and mixed reactions from the public. An all-black youth football team in Beaumont, Texas, joined the protest despite members of the team receiving death threats for doing so.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke out this week about the sports protest movement started by Kaepernick, calling it "dumb and disrespectful."
"Would I arrest them for doing it? No," Ginsburg said about the athletes refusing to stand for the national anthem. "I think it's dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it's a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn't lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act."
Kaepernick responded to Ginsburg's remarks while speaking to the media.
"It is disappointing to hear a Supreme Court justice call a protest against injustices and oppression 'stupid, dumb' in reference to players doing that," Kaepernick said.
Ginsburg later apologized through a statement.
"Some of you have inquired about a book interview in which I was asked how I felt about Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players who refused to stand for the national anthem," Ginsburg's statement read. "Barely aware of the incident or its purpose, my comments were inappropriately dismissive and harsh. I should have declined to respond."
49ers Coach Chip Kelly named Kaepernick his starting quarterback for the game against Buffalo following weeks of speculation and suggested he did it solely to improve the team's struggling offense.
"We need to improve on the offensive side of the ball, and this is the decision we've made," Kelly said of the move.
The 49ers are 1 and 4 this season, and quarterback Blaine Gabbert's poor performance as a starter has been criticized by fans. The last time Kaepernick started for the team was in 2015, when injuries and an inconsistent performance led to him losing the starting job and beginning the 2016 season as the team's backup.
Buffalo is regarded to have a formidable defense, but Kaepernick handled the team well in the game's first half today.
The quarterback threw his first touchdown since Oct. 18, 2015, a 53-yard pass to Torrey Smith in the second quarter that temporarily gave his team the lead.
Kaepernick Faces Renewed Scrutiny as He Reclaims Job of Starting Quarterback