Ron Seibel

One 49ers draft pick isn’t like the other

San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneels during the national anthem before the team’s Sept. 1 preseason football game against San Diego.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneels during the national anthem before the team’s Sept. 1 preseason football game against San Diego. AP

Odds are that football fans with political leanings — or those with political leanings who wouldn’t otherwise watch football — will keep an eye on pregame ceremonies when Los Angeles takes on San Francisco in Monday’s late NFL game.

The whole situation regarding Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem has played itself out on national media. Kaepernick is trying to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, and he’s using a silent pregame protest to do so.

From a first amendment standpoint, he has that right. If he was compelled to salute under penalty of law, this country would be no better than a fascist police state.

But Kaepernick is also a member of a team in a sport where the phrase, “Big team, little me” is preached from youth leagues on up. His protest flies in the face of what football is supposed to be about, a sport where individualism is supposed to yield to collective goals.

We need not look farther than the 49ers franchise to see this disconnect in action.

Kaepernick was drafted in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft. Two years earlier, in the third round of the 2009 draft, the 49ers picked a running back whose life took a completely different turn, a turn that essentially runs head-on into Kaepernick’s anthem protest.

A little more than a decade ago, Glen Coffee was a quiet, hard-nosed high school running back at Fort Walton Beach in Florida, the same high school that produced Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel a decade earlier. He was definitely a “Yes sir, no ma’am” type, typical of a lot of student-athletes in the communities surrounding Eglin Air Force Base.

Coffee went on to a fairly solid collegiate career at Alabama, with his sophomore and junior seasons matching up with the first two years of the Nick Saban era. Coffee turned pro after his junior season, a year in which he ran for 1,383 yards and 10 touchdowns.

The NFL, however, turned out not to be to Coffee’s liking. After backing up Frank Gore for a year, Coffee retired before the start of 2010 season.

Coffee never made another bid to play in the NFL. Instead, in 2013, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. His became a paratrooper, graduating from Airborne school at Fort Benning.

Having covered Coffee’s high school football career while I was working for the Northwest Florida Daily News, I wish he would have played a couple of more seasons in the NFL. But Coffee’s heart eventually led him to play for a team with a much more important purpose, the purpose of defending this country and preserving the rights every citizen have.

Rights like writing for media that is free from government control.

Rights like the freedom to choose where to live and which teams to root for.

Rights like the ability to seek redress of grievances, such as what Kaepernick is doing these days.

Kaepernick has made it clear that his anthem protest is directed at law enforcement, not the military. But it’s that military that preserves the freedoms that everyone in this country enjoy ... a military Francis Scott Key wrote a song about more than 200 years ago that became the very song Kaepernick is now protesting.

I respect Kaepernick’s right to protest. But I respect Coffee’s career path a lot more.

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