Hero in a helmet: Kaepernick takes a knee against police brutality and American exceptionalism

Colin Kaepernick, number 7, took a knee during the national anthem Thursday night. © Jake Roth
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, America's most courageous, or hated, athlete, depending who you ask, went into the belly of the beast Thursday and took a knee during the national anthem in advance of a "Salute to the Military" game.

Backed by teammate Eric Reid, the two players protested silently before a pre-season game in the military town of San Diego while a US Navy Officer sang about “bombs bursting in air” and a land that’s supposedly free.

Standing fans used the bully pulpit of a corporately-sponsored sporting event to boo the pair for protesting police who kill innocent, unarmed civilians.

Last month Kaepernick sparked this now ongoing controversy when he wore socks during team practice depicting police officers as pigs.

He defended the socks saying the “rogue cops that are allowed to hold positions in police departments” are putting both community and “cops that have the right intentions” in danger.

Kaepernick refused to stand during the US National Anthem at another preseason game last week against the Green Bay Packers.

He told the NFL, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Kaepernick says he's trying to start a public dialogue about the extrajudicial killings by law enforcement: “Ultimately it’s to bring awareness and make people realize what’s really going on in this country. There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, people aren’t being held accountable for, and that’s something that needs to change. That’s something that — this country stands for freedom, liberty, justice for all. And it’s not happening for all right now.”

The 28 year old's actions are resonating across America and social media, and even prompted a reaction from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Seizing yet another opportunity to build on his pro-police-brutality base, the billionaire weighed in on the controversy when he told Seattle radio station KIRO: "I think it’s a terrible thing, and you know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him, let him try, it’s not gonna happen."

Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem has also angered NFL officials, who themselves have been criticized in the past for politicizing games through "paid patriotism" deals with the Pentagon.

The "patriotic" propaganda was in full force Thursday night when 240 military personnel unfurled a giant US flag before the game.

Reid and Kaepernick took a knee for the entirety of the Star-Spangled Banner Thursday before hugging each other when it ended.

Later in the game, the star QB stood and applauded during a moment of appreciation for service members and veterans, and also for the singing of God Bless America, suggesting he doesn’t view members of the world’s deadliest military as badly as the nation’s police.

The booing continued throughout the game when Kaepernick came on to the field, even while the exhibition game was in play.

In a post-game interview, he said he would donate $1m to help raise awareness of issues facing minority communities.

The biracial NFL star has received plenty of support from America’s military veterans with #VeteransforKaepernick trending after many tweets of support.

READ MORE: ‘I served for his right to protest’: Veterans take over Twitter with support for NFL’s Kaepernick

Many of his critics accuse him of not respecting America with some offering to buy him a one-way plane ticket to a destination of his choice.