Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the movement of NFL players protesting during the national anthem last season and remains unemployed after parting ways with the 49ers in March, appears on the December cover of GQ as the magazine's "Citizen of the Year."
Warriors star Kevin Durant, late-night host Stephen Colbert and actress Gal Gadot are among the other celebrities recognized in GQ's "Men (and Woman) of the Year" issue, which will feature photographs of Kaepernick in Harlem, "intending to evoke the spirit of Muhammad Ali's anti-Vietnam War protests in the neighborhood during the late 60s." Kaepernick doesn't go on record with the magazine, but the issue includes commentary from 10 of his closest confidants, including rapper J. Cole, former 49ers teammate Eric Reid, filmmaker Ava DuVernay and activist Harry Belafonte.
Kaepernick, who filed a grievance last month accusing NFL teams of colluding to keep him out of the league, agreed to collaborate with the magazine on the special project in an attempt to "reclaim the narrative of his protest." The 30-year-old became the first NFL player to take a knee during the national anthem last season to protest police brutality and racial injustice. While Kaepernick has remained mostly silent in the 14 months since, protests have continued across the league in his absence this season. During a campaign rally in Alabama in September, President Donald Trump called on NFL owners to fire players who refused to stand for the national anthem.
"As his public identity has begun to shift from football star to embattled activist, he has grown wise to the power of his silence," GQ's editors write. "It has helped his story go around the world. It has even provoked the ire and ill temper of Donald Trump. Why talk now, when your detractors will only twist your words and use them against you? Why speak now, when silence has done so much?"
At a symposium at the University of Maryland last week, legendary sportscaster Bob Costas cited Kaepernick's silence and decision not to vote in the 2016 presidential election among the reasons he doesn't rise to the "level of transcendence" of some of the athlete activists who came before him. ESPN's Michael Wilbon agreed, saying, "I admire what he did, but he is not an ideal messenger."
Kaepernick has appeared on the cover of GQ once before, in August 2013, seven months after leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl.