Celebrities, fans, athletes and activists boycotted the Super Bowl on Sunday evening to protest what they saw as the National Football League‘s “racist treatment” of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The American football player has not been offered a contract to play since sparking a wave of protests in the United States against racial injustice.
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The New England Patriots won a record-equalling sixth Super Bowl title, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 13-3 in Atlanta, Georgia.
But before the teams took to the field, Kaepernick was the player being talked about. Calls to boycott the game in solidarity with the former San Francisco 49er trended on social media with the tag #I’mWithKap.
Kaepernick courted controversy in 2016 when he refused to stand during the pre-game US national anthem, choosing to kneel instead in protest of police brutality, including the killings of unarmed African Americans.
Other players joined his protest, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump, who called for team owners to fire them.
The NFL announced last year that teams would be fined an undisclosed amount if its members sat down or knelt in protest.
Since opting out of his contract with San Francisco for the 2017 season, Kaepernick has failed to land a deal with any team.
On Sunday, several celebrities posted pictures on social media wearing Kaepernick’s number 7 jersey.
“I will not be a spectator, viewer or supporter of the Super Bowl today in protest of the NFL’s racist treatment of Kaepernick and its ongoing disregard for the health and well-being of all its players. To watch the game is to compromise my beliefs. It’s not worth it,” wrote award-winning director Ava DuVernay.
I will not be a spectator, viewer or supporter of the #SuperBowl today in protest of the @NFL’s racist treatment of @Kaepernick7 and its ongoing disregard for the health + well-being of all its players. To watch the game is to compromise my beliefs. It’s not worth it. #ImWithKap pic.twitter.com/fNEeke0crs
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) February 3, 2019
Shaun King, a writer and civil rights activist, said he “just can’t support a product” that has “basically banned Kaepernick for taking a peaceful knee for families impacted by police brutality”.
More than 200 African Americans were shot and killed by police in 2016, sparking national protests and boosting the Black Lives Matter movement.
Haven't watched a @NFL game all season and won't be watching today. Can't support an organization that tolerates all sorts of bad behavior from players, but systematically banned @Kaepernick7 for bringing injustice to light. #ImWithKap #Superbowl #SuperBowlLIII #SuperBowlSunday
— Jon Manuel (@JonManuel) February 3, 2019
Actress Piper Perabo, singer Goapele and many others also chimed in to show their support for the quarterback and condemn the National Football League.
— Goapele (@Goapele) February 3, 2019
— Piper Perabo Vote Early (@PiperPerabo) February 4, 2019
Meanwhile, Kaepernick, who has devoted his time to charity work since the 2016 season, posted a photo of former Olympic athlete John Carlos, wearing a jersey with #ImWithKap written on it.
“It means the world to me to have the support of John Carlos, an icon, who paved the way for myself and many others to continue to fight systemic oppression. Thank you for your sacrifice for us!” he wrote.
American sprinter Carlos, alongside Tommie Smith, orchestrated the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico as a silent protest against racism.
It means the world to me to have the support of John Carlos, an Icon who paved the way for myself and many others to continue to fight systemic oppression. Thank you for your sacrifice for us!✊🏾 pic.twitter.com/egc6mJEY6z
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) February 4, 2019
The Super Bowl is one of the most-watched sporting events on TV in the US, but this year’s game drew the lowest overnight ratings in a decade.
Attendance at NFL games and TV ratings have also fallen in recent years, with some suggesting the protests have contributed to the negative trend.