Colin Kaepernick has admitted it has been ‘very difficult’ to accuse his adoptive white parents of having racist attitudes, but said he felt he needed to speak out to help other transracial adoptees.
Kaepernick, 35, played six seasons for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL, but is now better known for his high profile civil rights activism.
Kaepernick wrote a graphic novel with sociologist Eve Ewing, entitled Change the Game, in which he references his childhood and upbringing, and how he was being pressured to play baseball – a ‘white man’s sport’ – but preferred football.
The athlete was given up for adoption at five weeks old by his 19-year-old biological mother, and adopted by Rick and Teresa Kaepernick in 1987. The couple and their six-year-old daughter, Devon, and her older brother, Kyle, were living in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, at the time – they moved to California when Kaepernick was four.
To promote his book, Kaepernick appeared on CBS News last month and accused his adoptive parents of ‘perpetuating racism’ by telling him as a teen that corn rows looked unprofessional, and said he had to experience ‘very problematic things’ while growing up in their house.
On Thursday, Kaepernick and Ewing, who teaches courses on education and racial inequality at the University of Chicago, discussed the book online.
Colin Kaepernick and Eve Ewing, who co-wrote a graphic novel, Change The Game, held an online discussion to talk about some of the issues raised in the book
Colin Kaepernick and his girlfriend Nessa Diab are seen with Kaepernick’s adoptive parents, Rick and Theresa Kaepernick. They adopted him when he was five weeks old
Ewing said that she felt many ‘transracial adoptees that I know’ would ‘see themselves and their story in this book,’ noting that she felt the book dealt with feelings of isolation.
‘I’ve had a lot of responses from other transracial adoptees on that front,’ Kaepernick agreed.
‘Having similar experiences. And having similar family dynamics that they are trying to navigate.
‘And because it is so unique, it is very difficult for people to have a nuanced conversation around it.
‘The people that love you and that you love can also perpetuate very problematic elements.
‘Those things can exist at the same time.’
Kaepernick said he hoped the book would serve as a guide for other young people struggling with their identity.
Kaepernick and Ewing have worked together on a graphic novel for young adults
‘Part of it is like, how do you grapple with that? How do you navigate that?’ he said.
‘Especially at a young age.
‘Are you equipped to navigate that? And are your parents equipped to navigate that?’
Ewing said she felt the book was not limited to issues around transracial adoptions.
She said she felt it was relevant ‘across race; for cis parents raising trans kids; for hearing parents raising deaf kids; across gender identity and sexuality and so many other things.’
Ewing added: ‘I think we have to sit with these things, and the tension.
‘You can love somebody and still be capable of hurting them.
‘I’m glad we’re having that conversation, but it is interesting how people pick it up.’
Kaepernick’s adoptive parents and siblings are yet to comment on the book.
He claims his adoptive mother told him he ‘looked like a little thug’ when he showed her his cornrow hairstyle.
Speaking to CBS to promote his new graphic comic memoir, Kaepernick last month gave the example of his mother telling him cornrows were not professional
Kaepernick with his father, who was an executive in a food company
‘I know my parents loved me,’ he told CBS.
‘But there were still very problematic things that I went through.’
The Kaepernicks insisted, before their athlete son embarked on his racial justice crusade, that they never had any issues with the differences in skin color within the family.
Kaepernick as a high school football star
His father, who was a business executive at a cheese company for much of his career, told ESPN in 2016: ‘It all went really smoothly.
‘I know it’s not usually that smooth with adoptions, but it was.
‘Colin never had any adoption issues at all.
‘The only difference is his skin is a little bit browner than ours.’
Kaepernick himself denied any rift with his parents in 2015, telling the website Mr Porter: ‘I never felt that I was supposed to be white. Or black, either. My parents just wanted to let me be who I needed to be.’
When, in 2012, a Sporting News columnist wrote a racially-charged article about Kaepernick’s looks, his adoptive parents – who usually shun the limelight – spoke out.
‘It annoyed me,’ his mother told USA Today after the column was posted.
‘You are categorizing this kid on something like tattoos? Really? That’s how you’re going to define this kid?
‘It’s pretty irritating, but it is what it is.’
Rick Kaepernick added: ‘Instead of saying that Colin does all these great things and donates his time to children, this guy is going to make him out like a gangster.’