Alex Smith says country wasnt ready for Colin Kaepernicks message – USA TODAY

While reflecting on a season with former San Francisco 49ers teammate Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith says Kaepernick’s absence from football is a tragedy. 

“It’s so tragic looking at it. I think (Kaepernick) was ahead of his time, certainly trying to call out social injustice, especially around police reform,” said the Washington Football Team quarterback on The Ringer’s podcast 10 questions with Kyle Brandt.

“The country wasn’t ready,” said Smith. “Nobody was ready for it. And he’s sitting there trying to tell everybody through a completely peaceful manner about some of the things going on in this country that had been going on for a long time, and to see the backlash that happened, it hurts. It hurts looking back at it. The country wasn’t ready for it, and he suffered the repercussions.”

When Kaepernick took a knee in 2016 during the national anthem to peacefully protest police brutality and systemic racism in America, he faced national backlash. Kaepernick became a free agent at the end of the 2016- 2017 season after opting out of his 49ers contract and has not played a down in the NFL since.

Smith recalls Kaepernick as a quiet, respectful and talented teammate, saying “it still doesn’t make sense” that Kaepernick is no longer playing in the league. 

Smith, 36, and Kaepernick, 33, played together in San Francisco in 2011 and 2012. Kaepernick was the 49ers starting quarterback in 2012, the year they reached the Super Bowl. In his first NFL playoff start, Kaepernick led the 49ers to an NFC West division win against the Green Bay Packers, rushing for an NFL record of 181 yards. Kaepernick went on to lead the 49ers to a championship win against the Atlanta Falcons before falling short in Super Bowl 47 against the Baltimore Ravens. 

“The run that he went on at the end of that last year when we were together and then went to the Super Bowl… was so crazy to watch,” said Smith. “Truly one of the historic runs in football. It’s crazy to fast forward only a couple later that he was out of the league. Couldn’t even grasp it. Couldn’t understand it. It still doesn’t make sense.”

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem.

“Obviously, he was incredibly brave and I’m certainly proud of him, to even know him and what he has done,” said Smith. “He lost his livelihood. Probably one of the guys, I felt like had the brightest future ahead of him. Fast forward a few years later and I think we all were like, ‘he obviously was trying to tell us something and knew it.’ To see what has happened this last year and hopefully will continue to happen going forward. You hope that (Kaepernick) will be apart of the answer and the solution.

Contact Analis Bailey at aabailey@usatoday.com or on Twitter @analisbailey.