Kaepernick played college football for the University of Nevada where he was named the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) Offensive Player of the Year twice and became the only player in NCAA Division I FBS history to amass 10,000 passing yards and 4,000 rushing yards in a career. After graduating, he was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Kaepernick began his professional football career as a backup quarterback to Alex Smith, and became the 49ers' starter in the middle of the 2012 season after Smith suffered a concussion. He then remained the team's starting quarterback for the rest of the season, leading the team to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1994. During the 2013 season, his first full season as a starter, Kaepernick helped the 49ers reach the NFC Championship Game. Over the next three seasons, Kaepernick lost and won back his starting job, with the 49ers missing the playoffs for three years consecutively.
During the 49ers' third preseason game in 2016, Kaepernick began to sit during the playing of the U.S. national anthem prior to games, rather than stand as is customary, as a protest against racial injustice and systematic oppression in the country. The following week, and throughout the regular season, Kaepernick began kneeling instead of sitting during the anthem. The actions resulted in a wider protest movement, which intensified in September 2017 after president Donald Trump said that NFL owners should "fire" players who protest the national anthem. Following the season, Kaepernick opted out of his contract and became a free agent, but went unsigned. In November 2017, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL and its owners, accusing them of colluding to keep him out of the league. Kaepernick withdrew the grievance in February 2019 after reaching a confidential settlement with the NFL.