Colin Kaepernick: Five things taken from series Colin in Black and White

By Patsy GoodwinBBC Sport
Colin Kaepernick and Jaden Michael who plays the young Kaepernick in Colin In Black and White
The real Colin Kaepernick and Jaden Michael - who plays his younger self in Colin in Black and White

Black History Month is over, but its message about the importance of black stories continues all year round - and is particularly relevant in Colin Kaepernick's new Netflix series Colin in Black and White.

The American football star attracted worldwide attention in 2016 as the first sportsperson to take a knee in protest against police brutality and racial injustice in the United States, and has become a global activist on civil rights.

But instead of focusing on those acts, the series charts his younger years as a teenager growing up in California, dreaming of playing in the Super Bowl.

The format switches from autobiographical, featuring Kaepernick in vision and narration, to dramatisation of his experiences.

Here are five things we took from the six-part series…

'What you start out as is not necessarily what you become'

Jaden Michael plays Colin Kaepernick in the new Netflix series Colin in Black and White
Michael, as Kaepernick, explores the choices and difficulties faced by the young sporting hopeful

Kaepernick almost didn't make it as an American football player. The key moment in that story was him turning down several big baseball teams as a teenager.

The series depicts the young Kaepernick, played by Jaden Michael, as being strong-willed, deciding to hold out for a football scholarship, despite being ridiculed for the decision by his coaches and peers at school.

His belief paid off. He received a football scholarship offer from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2006. After graduating, he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

In this episode, the real Kaepernick says: "For me, I played baseball because I was good at it. My passion, my love, was being a quarterback."

He thought football was his destiny - but life took him on a different path...

'Growing up with white parents, I assumed their privilege was mine. I was in for a rude awakening'

Kaepernick is shown exploring his black identity, including experimenting with different hairstyles
Kaepernick is shown exploring his black identity, including experimenting with different hairstyles

Kaepernick has always been close to his parents, Rick and Teresa, and credits them for instilling him with good values. But the series exposes some of the challenges he faced growing up with white parents in a mostly white town.

They adopted him as a baby in Wisconsin after struggling to conceive a third child and later moved with their family to Turlock in California.

In various scenes, his parents are unable to understand their son's need to explore his black identity and often don't recognise him being treated differently.

After the young Kaepernick secretly gets cornrows, his father tells him he's "wasting his energy on hairstyles". Later, his mother tells him that "you look like a thug" when his coach asks him to change his hair in order to stay on the team.

After that, he didn't get braids again for another 14 years. In vision, the real Kaepernick looks down the barrel of the camera. "I couldn't rebel because I didn't know how," he says. "But now… I know how and I will."

Kaepernick knelt for the first time on 1 September 2016, before the 49ers' final pre-season game, at San Diego Chargers. A few months later, his parents released a statement. It read: "We want people to know that we are very proud of our son and admire his strength and courage in kneeling for the rights of others."

'Until the people who are running things change their minds, you'll be an anomaly'

One scene shows a young Kaepernick and his family stopped by police in their car
One scene shows a young Kaepernick and his family being stopped by police

Colin in Black and White raises questions about what it means to be black in a society that favours whiteness. It tackles topics that black kids and other young people of colour face around stereotypes, microaggressions, alienation and more.

On a road trip, there are several scenes in which Kaepernick, as played by Michael, is treated differently from his white friends and counterparts.

In one scene, set during his senior school years, he is driving his parents to a baseball tournament when he is pulled over by police.

The policeman asks his parents: "You folks OK?" After they say they are, the officer intimidates their son before reaching for his gun as he finds his permit. Kaepernick is shown shaking. As the policeman walks away, his mother says: "You dodged a bullet."

Towards the end of the episode, the real Kaepernick narrates: "I guess what I learned that summer is… they're not always going to give you a fair call. But you can't let them stop you from playing the game."

​​'You will learn to find beauty in a world that tells you there is none'

Kaepernick's school Homecoming experience is depicted in the series
Kaepernick's school Homecoming experience is depicted in the series

Kaepernick's athletic development came at a time when he was also discovering girls.

In one of the later episodes, he's interested in taking one of his school friends, a black girl called Crystal, to Homecoming - the US school tradition at which former pupils are welcomed back as part of a celebration.

However, his white and black friends each push him towards one of the popular white girls, after describing Crystal as "cute" but "so damn black".

He doesn't listen to his friends and pursues Crystal anyway, discovering love for the first time.

The real Kaepernick explores society's views on beauty through explaining a psychological experiment called the doll test,external-link where children were shown two dolls, one black and one white and asked who was good and who was bad, pretty or ugly and who the children most wanted to be like.

Later on, Kaepernick reflects on how ideas about beauty are changing. He notes that in 2019, for the first time, five of the world's biggest beauty pageant titles were all held by black women.

'Trust your power'

The series ends with an inspirational letter to his younger self, recited by the real Kaepernick. It explores his ups and downs but how he "wouldn't trade those moments for anything".

It says: "Dear Colin, trust your power. Even when you don't see it, believe it. Because you're going to need it. From your earliest days, rejection will follow you and it'll be there through every step of your journey. It'll come from people who love you… and people who don't think you belong. It'll even come from a girl or two. But rejection is not failure - it's a calibrator..."

Kaepernick did fulfil his dream of becoming a quarterback in the NFL, leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Superbowl in 2013.

He later states in the letter that while he focused on being a quarterback, something else was happening. Something extraordinary…

Is that a hint at a series two?

Colin in Black and White is streaming on Netflix now.

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