January 1, 2017: While many were nursing hangovers with the sound of Auld Lang Syne ringing in their ears, something seemingly inconspicuous took place.
As the San Francisco 49ers took to the field at Levi’s Stadium for their final game of the 2016 season, Colin Kaepernick played professional football for the last time.
At the start of that losing 2-14 season for the 49ers, the franchise quarterback made headlines for what he did off the field.
He remained seated during the national anthem before a pre-season game. His peaceful protest made international headlines and opened the world’s eyes towards police brutality in the United States.
On Saturday, it will have been 1,000 days since Kaepernick played in the National Football League. Now aged 31, Kaepernick should be in the prime of his career.
A second-round pick in the 2011 NFL draft, he burst onto the scene on November 19, 2012.
It was a primetime Monday Night Football game at home to the Chicago Bears. Alex Smith, the 49ers starting quarterback, was sidelined with concussion, so the young back-up was given his first start.
Kaepernick completed 16 of 23 pass attempts for 246 yards and two touchdowns in their 32-7 win.
His impact was so influential he kept the starting job over the quarterback who had taken the 49ers to the NFC Championship game the season before.
Trump: I’d welcome Kaepernick return
Colin Kaepernick should be employed by an NFL team, US president Donald Trump told reporters outside of the White House in August.
Kaepernick led his team to Super Bowl 47 and even beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in their own backyard, 41-34 in Week 15.
He broke, and still holds, the post-season record of 181 rushing yards by a quarterback in the wild card game against the Green Bay Packers.
Then, in the biggest game of all, the unflappable star passed for 302 yards and rushed for 62.
He almost pulled off a great Super Bowl comeback, but narrowly missed out right at the end to the Baltimore Ravens.
Kaepernick opened the following season throwing for a career-high 412 yards and three touchdowns against the Packers; the first 400-yard game by a 49ers quarterback since 2004.
He finished that 2013 campaign by taking San Francisco to their third consecutive NFC Championship, ultimately losing to the Seattle Seahawks in the dying seconds by throwing an interception to Richard Sherman.
His 3,197 passing yards that season were bettered in 2014 with 3,369, but his quarterback rating dropped, and his sack count increased along with San Francisco’s losses.
They failed to make the playoffs and the head coach, who had put his faith in No 7 – Jim Harbaugh – lost his job.
The 49ers were decimated by injuries, retirements and suspensions the following year and Kaepernick was benched by his new head coach Jim Tomsula for Blaine Gabbert.
He went under the knife that November for surgery on his shoulder, Tomsula got fired and the team struggled for form under their next head coach Chip Kelly.
Just two months after his final game for San Francisco, in March 2017 Colin Kaepernick became a free agent.
No one signed him.
In November that year he filed a grievance against the NFL, accusing owners of collusion to keep him out of the league because of his political stance.
His actions highlighted the issue of racial inequality in the United States and made headlines around the world.
President Donald Trump condemned NFL players who chose to support Kaepernick’s cause by kneeling during the national anthem and urged owners to fire those who, he claimed, disrespected the flag.
Immediately players and owners linked arms in unity against what they believed to be hatred and disagreement across America.
“The whole light of the protest is being overshadowed by the national anthem and the flag,” said Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack after he linked arms and knelt with owner Shahid Khan during the national anthem at Wembley Stadium in September 2017.
“It’s not about the flag, it’s about being an American, in order to feel included.
“We’re [African Americans] not feeling included because we’re not getting treated the same as everybody else.”
His team-mate Jalen Ramsey, who also knelt before that Wembley game, added, “People look up to us as role models and we want to show a good example to them.
“We want to let them know that doing the right thing and kneeling for what you believe right is okay in this world.”
From putting in work predraft, to staying ready against the odds! Love to my Brother @obj – #StillReady ðŸŽ¥: @REL @djtonedef @GaryNgUSC pic.twitter.com/mcSCn8vpHE
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 4, 2019
Earlier this year, Kaepernick reached a confidential settlement with the NFL and withdrew the grievance.
He is still not playing football and has been overlooked for back-up quarterback jobs by teams as they opt for the likes of Garrett Gilbert, Mike Glennon, Brett Hundley and the man who took over for Kaepernick in 2015 – Gabbert.
Since his last NFL game, there have been 81 starting quarterbacks in the league.
Some experts will argue that he has been out of the game for too long and will struggle if he returned.
Recent social media highlights show he is hungry for a return, working alongside the likes of Odell Beckham Jr in training workouts.
It might have cost him his career, but Kaepernick stood up for what he believed in. His Emmy-winning commercial for Nike told us as much.
Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything. #JustDoIt pic.twitter.com/SRWkMIDdaO
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
More than a year after he chose not to stand for the national anthem, he had players and owners unite around the world to kneel against racial injustice in America.
Robert Littal, the owner and editor-in-chief of sports website Black Sports Online says Kaepernick has changed people’s attitudes to fighting oppression in America.
“I would say the major change is more players being proactive in trying to make things better in the communities and bringing to light the social injustices that are happening in our country,” he said.
“I believe the Trump era has made more players understand they have a voice and can use it to make change.
“I don’t think things have changed much within the NFL. Kaepernick is still being blackballed and there are owners who still feel like players should just play football and not do anything else.”
Earlier this year, the NFL launched its Player Coalition Justice Program after it donated $20m in 2018.
“They [NFL owners] support and donate millions to Trump, so it is clear where their allegiances lie,” Littal added.
“It is more about ratings and money than actually making change. The things they have done have been reactionary not proactive.”
Littal says things have stuttered of late – “the movement itself is a bit fractured.”
“You have players and individuals that believe you can’t work with the NFL while they are still blackballing Colin Kaepernick, like Eric Reid and Kenny Stills.
“You have others like Jay-Z and Malcolm Jenkins that believe that you can’t dwell on Kaepernick not having a job, when there is so much that needs to be done.
“I believe they all want the same thing in the end, but simply aren’t on the same road to get there.”
But the former Super Bowl quarterback is not giving up the fight, as Littal confirms: “From the time Kaepernick started being blackballed he has spoken a lot publicly.
“His actions show that he is doing the work, but he has stayed in the background. Others seem to speak for him in regards to his readiness to get back into the NFL or if he disagrees with what others are doing.
“While he isn’t publicly out there, privately he is affecting many lives with his actions.”
In the thousand days since his last game Kaepernick has been as impactful off the field as he was on it.