SANTA CLARA – Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has found his voice this season, speaking out in recent months about social issues. His activism has apparently also translated to more openness with his teammates inside the 49ers locker room.
“I think Colin’s handled that situation better than anyone could’ve imagined,” 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “It hasn’t been a distraction in our locker room. It probably helped him open up to a lot of our team and our teammates better.
“He’s been very open in communication about that, as well as football. For him to have this shot, I don’t think it’s something where he’s focused on one thing and not the other. He’s a quarterback. He’s going out there to try to win games.”
Coach Chip Kelly announced on Tuesday that Kaepernick would start Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Kaepernick served as the team’s backup quarterback through the first five games. He has not started an NFL regular season game since Nov. 1.
A year ago, Kaepernick started the 49ers’ first eight games, running his consecutive-starts streak to 47 games. But as his production on the field sagged, he seemed to close himself off to teammates while regularly wearing headphones around the team’s facility.
This season, Kaepernick has not been seen wearing the headphones that became a symbol of the distance with his teammates.
“That’s not to say he was terrible (last year), but I think he’s definitely more open,” Smith said. “I think he’s happier overall. People tend to forget that that’s a big part of it, just being happy and having fun, being loose. I think he’s going to take advantage of his opportunity.
“He just looks happier. He looks like he’s in a real good place.”
When asked about Smith’s comments, Kaepernick seemed to understand Smith’s perspective.
“I think I’ve always been happy, but more than anything, I’m comfortable. I’m at peace with myself, with my relationships and with everything that’s going on in my life,” Kaepernick said. “So I think that reflects and I think that’s what he’s referring to.”
Kaepernick started a movement during the summer when he declined to stand for the national anthem before the 49ers’ first three exhibition games. In the fourth game, he took a knee, along with safety Eric Reid, to bring attention to racial inequalities in the country.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump blasted Kaepernick, saying “he should find a country that works better for him.” This week, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the protest “dumb and disrespectful.”
Kaepernick’s movement landed him on the cover of TIME magazine, over the heading, “The Perilous Fight: National anthem protests led by Colin Kaepernick are fueling a debate about privilege, pride, and patriotism.”
"I think people are realizing the injustices and the oppression that’s taking place in this country and it’s something that needs to be addressed," Kaepernick said. "I think it’d have a huge impact on a lot of people’s lives and that’s ultimately what the goal is to affect this country and those people positively.
"As far as on the football field, I’m excited to be back out there. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to be out there with my teammates and fight with them and try to get this win this Sunday. I’m ready.”