Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who made headlines around the world when he began taking a knee during the United States national anthem to protest racial oppression in the country, has altered his stance and will stand during the anthem next season.
His announcement comes after the news that he will opt out of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers this week and become a free agent ahead of the new season.
Kaepernick initially said that his national-anthem protest was meant to bring attention to social and racial injustice. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour,” he said after taking a knee ahead of the 49ers loss to the Green Bay Packers last year.
However, according to a report on ESPN, the 29-year-old will no longer kneel for the anthem because he is fearful of creating a possible distraction for a new team.
Kaepernick doesn't want the "past method of protest to detract from the positive change that he believes has been created, per sources," ESPN's Adam Schefter said.
Kaepernick started the campaign of kneeling during the national anthem as the 49ers' backup behind Blaine Gabbert before taking over as the starter on Oct. 16 against the Buffalo Bills.
The 29-year-old, who is a vocal supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, commented after the match that recent events had forced him into action.
“To me, this is bigger than football,” he said. “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.”
The quarterback’s stance inspired many of other NFL stars to join him in his protest, with a number of players beginning to either take a knee or raise a fist during the playing of The Star-Spangled Banner in solidarity with Kaepernick. In the weeks after he first took a knee, his jersey became the top-selling jersey on the NFL's official shop website.
However his stance proved wildly divisive across the United States with Kaepernick also being voted the “most disliked” player in the NFL during the 2016 season. Some supporters meanwhile held up banners attacking the player for a perceived lack of patriotism. Former NFL MVP Boomer Esiason called Kaepernick's actions "an embarrassment".
With Kaepernick under centre, the 49ers lost nine straight and 10 of 11 overall to finish the season with the second-worst record in the NFL at 2-14.
Kaepernick threw for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions while fumbling a career-worst seven times. He also ran for 468 yards and two TDs.
(Additional reporting by Reuters)