NFL players vows to continue to protest national anthem

NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in this April 2015 photograph provided by MGN.
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SAN FRANCISCO - (NBC) San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is well-known for his scrambling on the football field, but he has not dodged the off-the-field controversy generated recently by his decision to stay on the bench while the national anthem was performed.

"Ultimately it's to bring awareness and make people realize what's really going on in this country," Kaepernick told the San Jose Mercury News on Sunday. "There are a lot of things that are going on that are unjust, people aren't being held accountable for, that's something that needs to change ... this country stands for liberty, freedom, justice for all. And it's not happening for all right now."

And while Kaepernick has also said he has "great respect" for the men and women in the U.S. military, which he says includes family members and friends, he feels he can't "stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

Kaepernick, who is biracial, has been increasingly outspoken on social media about recent police shootings of unarmed black men, the presidential election and other civil rights issues. His recent behavior is just the latest example of a long history of professional athletes taking what they consider to be principled stands against what they see as injustice in the world.

The late Muhammad Ali famously refused to serve in the Vietnam War. Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith threw up a black power salute during the 1968 games. More recently, several NBA and NFL players have made subtle and overt gestures to show their solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and victims of alleged police brutality.

Kaepernick isn't even the first professional athlete to sit out a popular patriotic anthem in protest. Back in 2004, then-Toronto Blue Jays slugger Carlos Delgado drew the ire and respect of many fans for refusing to participate in the ceremonial singing of "God Bless America" during games, in part because of his opposition to the Iraq War.

The Puerto Rican-born player said at the time: "It's a very terrible thing that happened on September 11. It's [also] a terrible thing that happened in Afghanistan and Iraq … I just feel so sad for the families that lost relatives and loved ones in the war. But I think it's the stupidest war ever."

In 1996, the Denver Nuggets' Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was suspended for one game by the NBA after he refused to stand for the National Anthem, citing his personal and religious beliefs. He and the league eventually reached a compromise where he would bow his head and pray silently during the song.