Anthem singer recalls night Kaepernick first took knee


He has performed the Star-Spangled Banner more than 500 times at sporting events over the years.

One, in particular, stands out.

On Sept. 1, 2016, United States Navy Retired Petty Officer First Class Steven Powell took the microphone in San Diego before the 49ers-Chargers preseason game.

There was a different energy in the stadium as he began to sing the national anthem on Military Appreciation Night.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Powell said. “I was just mentally preparing to sing the anthem. I didn’t know what was going on behind me, so I had no idea.”

Then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat on the bench during the national anthem for the first three preseason games that summer.

Kaepernick met with former Green Beret Nate Boyer, a former football player, at the team hotel before the game in San Diego. Kaepernick asked if there was a way he could protest racial inequality and police brutality in the United States without offending people in the military.

Boyer suggested Kaepernick kneel for the anthem. And that is what Kaepernick did, joined by teammate Eric Reid, on that night five years ago today.

Powell unknowingly played a role in the seminal moment of the current civil rights movement

“My job was to sing the national anthem the best I could,” Powell said. “I did not know what happened until after the fact, taking a knee. Then, everything came out and (his) picture was there, and I was there.”

In the third quarter, Powell returned to the field to sing “God Bless America.” He found out only after the 49ers-Raiders preseason game Sunday at Levi’s Stadium that Kaepernick stood and applauded his performance.

Said Powell, “I did not know that. I appreciate that he did that. That was very honorable for him to do that and for everyone who stands up and does that.”

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Kaepernick made it clear that night and every time he was asked about it later that his protest had nothing to do with the flag or the military.

“I’m not anti-America,” Kaepernick said that night while also pledging $1 million to organizations that support racial equality. “I love America. I love people.

"That’s why I’m doing this. I want to help make America better. I think having these conversations helps everybody have a better understanding of where everybody is coming from. “

So many years later, the message Powell still sends is one calling for unity.

“Put all the other stuff aside and come together as a country and make it work as a country,” Powell said. “So many people want to come here because they want to be a part of this because they’re not getting that anywhere else.

“But they can come here and learn they can have a family and have a family that’s a part of something very special.”

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