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Why Colin Kaepernick wore a ‘Kunta Kinte’ shirt to his NFL workout

Posted: 8:57 PM, Nov 17, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-17 20:57:26-05

(CNN) — Colin Kaepernick has long utilized the power of imagery to get across his message — look no further than his kneeling protests — and his choice of T-shirt did just that on Saturday.

After days of sharp disputes with the NFL, the former Super Bowl quarterback walked onto the field for his workout on Saturday wearing a T-shirt bearing the name Kunta Kinte.

Kunta Kinte is the main character in “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” Alex Haley’s 1976 novel. The novel was the basis for the epic 1977 ABC miniseries “Roots” that attracted a staggering audience of more than 100 million viewers. Slightly more than half of all US households with a TV watched the finale of the eight-part series.

Portrayed by LeVar Burton, Kunta Kinte was kidnapped from Africa, transported across the Atlantic and forced into slavery in the American South. His owner renamed him “Toby.” But he refused to accept the name imposed on him and, in a memorable scene, was whipped repeatedly for that disobedience.

He attempts to escape four times but is captured each time. After the final attempt, the owners cut half of his foot off to prevent another escape.

Though “Roots” is more than 40 years old, the character of Kunta Kinte remains a powerful force in pop culture and has been cited in songs by Missy Elliott and Kendrick Lamar, including in his song “King Kunta.”

On Saturday, Kaepernick appeared to use the reference to make a statement: He will not change who he is to appease the powers that be.

The workout came after the NFL announced on short notice that Kaepernick would participate in a throwing session in front of scouts and coaches. But disagreements over its timing, whether it would be public and other issues led Kaepernick to cancel that event and hold a public workout session at a different practice field in Atlanta, Georgia.

Once a star with the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick has been out of the NFL since 2016, the same season when he first sat during the pre-game National Anthem as a protest of police brutality and racism. The protest evolved into kneeling after onetime Seattle Seahawk and Green Beret Nate Boyer convinced Kaepernick that kneeling would be more respectful to the nation’s military, the quarterback has said.

His protests sparked a backlash, including criticism from President Trump. Since then, no team has offered to sign him to a new deal. He filed a grievance against the NFL in 2017 alleging the owners were colluding to keep him out. The case was settled for an undisclosed sum last year.