SAN FRANCISCO, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the national anthem, instead sitting on a bench on his team's sideline, saying he would not honor a country that "oppresses black people and people of color."
Kaepernick, who is locked in a battle to win the 49ers starting quarterback job he once held, said his protest in Friday's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers was not an accident and his protest is "bigger than football."
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media after the game. "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."
While players lining the sidelines during the Star-Spangled Banner is a tradition at the start of every NFL game, there is no rule requiring players to participate.
Both the NFL and the 49ers issued statements respecting Kaepernick's right to stage the protest, though the NFL said players are "encouraged" to respect the national anthem.
"The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem," the team said.
The NFL Network reported a short response from the league office regarding Kaepernick's decision.
"Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem," the league said.
Kaepernick said he did not inform and of his coaches or teammates about his decision prior to the game and was prepared to face criticism and potentially lucrative endorsement contracts.
"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he said. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."
Kaepernick played the second quarter of Friday's 21-10 loss to the Packers completing two of six passes for 14 yards.
49ers coach Chip Kelly said after the game he was not aware of Kaepernick's protest and that it would not affect "football decisions." Kelly has yet to name either Kaepernick or Blaine Gabbert the team's starter in Week One of the regular season.