Colin Kaepernick walked off the sidelines Tuesday — and onto Rikers Island — for a surprise visit with jail inmates that’s sparked a new battle in the NFL protest movement.
The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback was at the city jail to speak to detainees inside the George Motchan Detention Center, according to jail insiders.
Kaepernick’s 2016 decision to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of racial injustice and police brutality quickly became a lightning rod this fall, drawing praise from supporters — many of whom took a knee in solidarity — and vocal criticism from others, including President Trump.
His presence Tuesday at Rikers drew an immediate rebuke from the union representing city correction officers, which promptly yanked its sponsorship of a Christmas tree lighting celebration.
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"This will only encourage inmates to continue to attack Correction Officers at a time when we need more protection," said Elias Husamudeen, president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association.
Furious union leaders noted socks Kaepernick wore in September 2016 depicting cops as little cartoon pigs in explaining their opposition.
"Once again, correction officers find themselves caught in Mayor de Blasio's political con-game,” Husamudeen said. “This is yet another brazen display of the hypocrisy of this mayor who pretends to support us in public, yet does everything possible to jeopardize our security in private."
Kaepernick, however, has been hailed by inmate advocates who cite his outspoken calls for criminal justice reforms.
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"Colin Kaepernick visited Rikers today to share a message of hope and inspiration," said Correction Department spokesman Peter Thorne, who noted the visit was not unusual and didn't cost anything.
It was unclear if the mayor approved the sidelined QB’s visit, but all group jail visits must be cleared by top department brass.
Despite solid play on the field last year, Kaepernick, a free agent, was not signed by any of the National Football League's 32 teams this year. In October, he filed a grievance against the league, arguing team owners upset over his sideline protest colluded to keep him out. That case is pending.
Glenn Martin, founder of JustLeadershipUSA, a group advocating for the closure of Rikers, defended Kaepernick's visit.
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"The world should see the hell that is Rikers Island," he said. "Colin's profile has helped shed light where it is needed. The fact that correction officers are more focused on his socks while people are getting their brains bashed in is despicable."
He added, "Colin understands that the systemic racism he's fighting nationally is epitomized on Rikers."