I’ve been a football fan since I was seven years old. Growing up, my dad loved the San Francisco 49ers while my mom rooted for the Philadelphia Eagles. I’ve always rooted for the 49ers because I was a daddy’s girl.
When I was nine, my parents gifted me my very first NFL jersey for Christmas: a Colin Kaepernick 49ers jersey. From that moment on, I wore my Kaepernick jersey every ‘jersey day’ during school spirit weeks or whenever the 49ers won and whenever a game was on.
Although my African American identity was embraced in my household through football, I felt the need to conceal it in order to fit in as a child living in a predominantly white neighborhood.
After watching Super Bowl LVII and seeing two Black quarterbacks play, I realized my attachment to the jersey was significant to my identity I tried to hide as a child. It meant more to me than just a team or player in the NFL, it represented my journey and struggle to find media representation of people who look like me.
I lived in Southern Lancaster County from age three to 18, and my neighborhood and schools were white and conservative. I was a quiet child who always wanted to fit in, but I never felt like I belonged because I had more liberal opinions than my classmates. I felt scared and uncomfortable talking about topics that were important to me, like racism, oppression and injustice because I was one of three Black students in my class.
In elementary school, my teacher asked questions about who we admired most. I sat quietly in class and listened to my peers respond with innovators like Benjamin Franklin and presidents like George Washington. However, I couldn’t come up with an answer. I never had a deep connection to any of my role models like my classmates did.
Children often look up to people who look like them. I hadn’t been exposed to many role models who were Black, aside from my dad and the typical Black historical figures, like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, whom my teachers talked about once a year during Black History Month
Everything changed for me in September 2016, when Kaepernick took a knee during the playing of the national anthem in protest against the lack of attention given to police brutality and racism in the United States. At 12 years old, I finally found a role model who looked similar to me and stood up for issues I cared about.
I felt isolated in my small town for years because no one had uncomfortable conversations regarding injustices within our court systems, but Kaepernick’s actions encouraged me to use my voice and sparked my interest in activism and social justice.
Since his protest in 2016, I’ve attended marches and rallies for social issues I hold close to my identity, like Black Lives Matter and Bans Off Our Bodies. Despite living in a town where very few people thought the same way as me, I wasn’t scared to voice my opinion anymore.
After his 2016 protest, I proudly wore my Kaepernick jersey everywhere I went. I let my friends and classmates criticize me for supporting him when they viewed his protest as disrespecting America and the flag. They didn’t understand the importance of what Kaepernick had done for the Black community.
I’m in college now and am pursuing a communication and social influence degree that is adding to my activist toolbox and providing me with an abundance of knowledge, so I can continue to fight for what is right.
On Feb. 12, America watched a football game that made history. It was the first Super Bowl to feature two Black starting quarterbacks, Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes.
They’re not Kaepernick, but seeing two Black quarterbacks on the field reminded me of my childhood attachment to my jersey. I was searching for representation, and the jersey was a symbol of that at the time.
The game was inspiring to me and an entire generation of children who have been searching for representation of more than just white figures in sports media.
Super Bowl LVII displayed the Black excellence and Black joy that I searched for when I was in elementary school, and I’m grateful that the younger generation has more people of color to look up to in sports.