Colin Kaepernick has been silent throughout much of his National Football League (NFL) free agency, holding his tongue through the Trump administration’s attacks, team owners’ co-opting of his protest methods and even his new collusion case against league executives. That silence created challenges for the GQ editorial board, which named him “Citizen of the Year” for one of four “Man/Woman of the Year” cover stories that ran online today (November 13). 

“When we began discussing this GQ cover with Colin earlier this fall, he told us the reason he wanted to participate is that he wants to reclaim the narrative of his protest, which has been hijacked by a president eager to make this moment about himself,” writes the editorial board in reference to Kaepernick’s original goal of protesting systemic oppression and police brutality. “But Colin also made it clear to us that he intended to remain silent. As his public identity has begun to shift from football star to embattled activist, he has grown wise to the power of his silence. It has helped his story go around the world. It has even provoked the ire and ill temper of Donald Trump. Why talk now, when your detractors will only twist your words and use them against you? Why speak now, when silence has done so much?” 

On the other hand, the editorial board continues, “Colin is all too aware that silence creates a vacuum, and that if it doesn’t get filled somehow, someone else will fill it for him.” 

Kaepernick and GQ collectively resolved that quandary by asking 10 supporters to speak about him and his work. The interviewees include a mix of artists, organizers, scholars, athletes and loved ones. All but one are people of color, and six are Black. Here are a few excerpts: 

“The last time I saw him was the night after Trump called him out at the Alabama rally. It was a really dynamic weekend. I had dinner with him and Nessa [Kaepernick’s partner]. To be able to sit with that brother on this particular day—on the day between two historic cultural moments that swirled around him—was shape-shifting for me. Being able to observe that and witness his stillness and wisdom—I’m just really honored to know him. He’s sitting there and I’m sitting there and I’m like, ‘Look at this brother—he’s doing better than any of us would’ve done.’ A lot better. With a lot more elegance.”
—“Selma” filmmaker Ava DuVernay 

“My position is that people should not be watching football right now, while we’re in the middle of this, because we don’t need to add to their ratings. We need to ensure that we’re not on social media talking about the game as if Colin Kaepernick is not still up for deliberation. Now, I have some family members who have said to me that they don’t agree. But if everybody agreed about everything, our society wouldn’t be as diverse. And I think that where an opinion turns into the oppression of another human being, or a group of people, that’s where we must draw the line. Some people want to argue, ‘But the national anthem may not be a place for this because this is about all of us as Americans, the American dream and American freedom.’ And then I have to give them the history of the third verse that Francis Scott Key wrote, which refers directly to us as slaves, and being unable to escape the wrath of slave owners. When I bring that to them, they begin to understand.”
Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory

“As long as you’re educated and you have the facts, get into those discussions about race. Have those conversations. I don’t care how intense they get. You need to let Uncle Whoever and Auntie Whoever, who might feel a certain way, who might be racist or prejudiced, know that it’s not right and it’s not okay. Their beliefs are never based on facts. It’s always opinions or lies or misinformation, and that is where you can make a difference—by helping them get educated. Just know that it’s probably going to be a fight at first, and be okay with that. You know, your Thanksgiving might not be that good this year. Your Christmas might not be the best because we just had an argument. But you know what? It’s okay, it’s all right—that’s what families do, anyway. And why would you want a family member out there sounding ignorant? So it’s fine, we’re going to fight over the eggnog, and that’s just what it is. We may not see eye to eye, but I did my part, sharing the truth, because that’s all you can do. Be just in an unjust room.”
—Radio host and Kaepernick’s partner Nessa Diab 

GQ also developed the cover shoot and an accompanying behind-the-scenes video profile around images of Kaepernick training and spending time with Harlem residents. The magazine traces this theme to stories about Muhammad Ali training in Harlem during the 1960s, when the boxing world blacklisted him for speaking out against racism and resisting the Vietnam War draft. “He was known for jogging in the streets, and kids would chase him—the People’s Champ, boosted in his darkest days by the joy of his truest fans,” the editorial board writes. “That’s why we decided to photograph Colin in public, in Harlem, among the men, women and children he is fighting for: to connect him to a crusade that stretches back decades.” 

Watch the video profile below:


Check out the full profile and cover shoot at GQ.com.