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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has landed in the center of a furor after his refusal to stand during the national anthem at a preseason game, unleashing a tidal wave of criticism and support.
The 49ers' multi-million dollar signal-caller—whose agile play making and powerful arm helped carry his team to the Super Bowl in 2013—told the NFL.com in an interview that his refusal to stand for the anthem was in protest against social injustice.
"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 the publication after the 49ers fell to the Green Bay Packers in a preseason game on Friday night.
Since the 49ers lost Super Bowl XLVII, Kaepernick has been in the midst of a production slump, calling into question his longevity with one of football's most storied franchises. Nonetheless, he found himself at the center of the public's attention—but for reasons other than his on-field play and his patented bicep-kissing move called "Kaepernicking."
"To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way," said the athlete, who is biracial and was adopted by a white couple. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
In a subsequent interview with reporters on Sunday, the quarterback insisted that he would continue to sit until he saw evidence of change, while insisting he didn't mean to insult military service members.
Kaepernick's remarks stood in sharp contrast to those of fellow quarterback Cam Newton, who leads the Carolina Panthers.
Ironically enough, Newton also drew a mix of scorn and praise after he declared in an interview with GQ Magazine that America was "beyond racism," and said critiques about his performance had nothing to do with his being black.
Although numerous fans formend a rhetorical offensive line, rising to Kaepernick's defense, his comments unleashed a torrent of vitriol online. Some defended his right to speak his mind, even as they chided the substance of his argument. Yet at least one irate fan burned the quarterback's jersey, excoriating him as "ignorant."
The controversy stoked a new and furious debate about whether celebrities and athletes should weigh in on hot button social issues.
Left open was the question of whether his remarks would affect any of his endorsement deals. Kaepernick was prominently featured in a Beats By Dre headphones commercial, and was once fined by the NFL for wearing them on-field. He's also a brand ambassador for Jaguar and MuslePharm.
Neither of those companies immediately responded to CNBC's request for comment on Sunday.