Fans streaming into M&T Bank Stadium for the Ravens’ home opener Sunday were met by a group of more than 30 people demonstrating support for free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who ignited national controversy last year by kneeling during the national anthem,
Kaepernick is still looking for a team to play for this season.The Ravens briefly considered signing him during the summer.
The group of protesters said Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for his on-field protest against social injustice. They gathered in the morning on Hamburg Street, moving toward Russell Street and occasionally pausing to kneel as fans gathered for the 1 p.m. game against the Cleveland Browns.
Among the protesters was Tim Clark, a teacher and activist in Brooklyn, N.Y., who founded a movement called “Standing 4 Kaepernick.” Clark has led similar groups in other cities around the country, using Facebook to get the word out.
“Baltimore blew up overnight,” he said. “The response was incredible.”
Clark said he rented a car and drove down to Baltimore to make it to Sunday’s protest. In the past, he said, he “religiously” watched Sunday football with his friends at a Manhattan sports bar. “It is painful to be missing” the game, he said. “But it's more painful to do nothing.”
A few fans and tailgaters hurled angry insults at the group of demonstrators.
"It's a little hot for snowflakes, isn't it?" one person said to a companion as they passed the group.
“They need to take a hike,” said Jimmy White of Annapolis, 66, watching the group head down Hamburg Street across Russell Street. “There's a time and a place for it. Not here, not at a football game.”
But not everyone was critical of the protest.
“I like it,” said Taylor Bastedo, 21, who watched the protest while he was tailgating in a nearby parking lot. “They have their opinions. If they believe in it, go for it.”
The heckling reinforced the importance of the protest to Derrick Chase, 56. “As we walked past, we heard words like ‘traitor,’ ” he told the group. “Listen to the logic: ‘If I agree with you, “American.” If I disagree with you, “traitor.” ‘ “
As kickoff time neared, Linda Cole stood by herself on the side of busy Russell Street holding a sign with “NFL” crossed out. She said it was important to stand up for Kaepernick because he stood up for the rights of African-Americans. “I don't want him to feel abandoned by the community that he has sacrificed for.”
Cole, a native Baltimorean who described herself as a “die-hard” Ravens fan, said she acknowledged that Kaepernick isn’t perfect, at least in terms of statistics, and could be inconsistent on the field. But so is the Ravens’ Joe Flacco, she argued, and “I still stand with Joe Flacco.”
For now, she said, she’s done with the NFL. But she said she’s willing to give college football a try.