A reporter for Sports Illustrated was oddly surprised when football fans assumed he was making a political statement by wearing a Colin Kaepernick jersey at a recent Bills-Jets game.
SI’s Tim Rohan wore the bright red number seven Kaepernick jersey as he walked around the tailgaters at the Bills’ New Era Field this month and discovered that many fans had something to say about his jersey. Some were positive, many were negative, but all felt he was trying to make some sort of political statement by wearing Kaepernick’s shirt.
In his September 13 article, Rohan noted that the jersey “elicited some sort of reaction from nearly everyone” as he walked around showing it off to football fans.
“They’d either curse at me under their breath, offer a high five, or launch into a political diatribe,” the reporter explained. “By wearing this particular jersey to a random Bills-Jets game in early September, people assumed I was trying to make a political statement.”
Admitting that he thought he’d eventually get a punch in the face for wearing the shirt, Rohan wore the jersey to test how football fans would react. And the negative comments started right away, he noted:
Then we started walking down Southwestern Boulevard, the street perpendicular to the stadium, and people started turning their heads. One man pointed me out to his friends and shook his head; his friend next to him wore an O.J. Simpson jersey. A pickup truck turned a corner and a man in the backseat shouted, “Nice jersey. Get the f*** out of here.” Just as the truck pulled away, a group of teenagers passed us on the sidewalk: “F*** Kaepernick,” one of them said, under his breath, without looking back.
Rohan expressed his shock that fans equated Kaepernick with his politics instead of his game:
But they were obviously associating me — someone wearing Kaepernick’s jersey — with Kaepernick’s anthem protest. This may be unprecedented in the history of sport. Normally when we wear jerseys, we are associating ourselves with the players’ on-field achievements. No one wears a Jim Brown jersey because of whom he supported in the election. But wearing a Kaepernick jersey now indicates that you’re aligned with his politics, too. Many people wear the jersey solely for Kaepernick’s politics, and not his play on the field.
Why this surprised Rohan is hard to fathom. Colin Kaepernick is no longer an NFL football player. Right now, he is just an activist. Even during Kaepernick’s playing career, few outside the sports world knew much about Colin Kaepernick before he began his protests during the 2016 NFL season. Even within the sports world, Kaepernick’s popularity as an activist easily dwarfed any fame he enjoyed for successes on the field.
Not to mention the fact that Rohan wore a 49ers Kaepernick jersey, to a game that neither Kaepernick, nor the 49ers were involved in. So, of course people took it as a political statement.
In any case, Rohan stated that the name calling continued throughout his assignment.
Still, the SI reporter notes that he also found some fans who were appreciative of the jersey, though they also equated the shirt with a political statement.
Yet, even with all the negativity, Rohan expressed his surprise that American football fans could have strong opinions about something but not immediately turn to violence:
By now I was a bit surprised. People had made passing comments, sure, but no one had tried to hit me or break a bottle over my head. The people I met face-to-face were aware; they had feelings about Kaepernick and wanted to discuss him civilly.
Did Rohan enter this assignment believing he would be physically attacked? I mean, it was a Bills game, not an Antifa rally.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.