SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) In recent months, Colin Kaepernick has become comfortable with people getting to know him as more than a laser-focused football player the way he had always preferred it.
He sparked a nationwide debate with his anthem protest and emerged as an outspoken activist for minorities, and Kaepernick has seemingly improved his image in the process. This might even be where he leaves his legacy, off the field and not as a strong-armed quarterback and dual threat with his speedy legs - though Kaepernick certainly hopes to return to the dynamic playmaker he once was. And soon.
''Yeah, I think people know a little bit more about me,'' Kaepernick said Tuesday. ''I've been a little bit more open with where I stand and my views. For me, there's nothing to hide, there's nothing that I'm afraid to say about my opinion and my stance and what I believe in, because I know why I believe those things and I have knowledge to back that up.''
He just took his message a step further to reach underprivileged youth. Kaepernick hosted a ''Know Your Rights'' camp in Oakland for more than 100 kids Saturday, when his San Francisco 49ers (1-6) were on their bye week. They came from organizations throughout the Bay Area.
''It's exciting to see the youth that have that strength, have that courage, have that intelligence to say, `Our situation might not be the best, might not be ideal but we can succeed through it regardless,''' he said. ''... There were a lot of different topics that we covered, a lot of different areas that we wanted to share with them. Ultimately, they have the right to be great. They have the right for their freedom. They have the right to be treated as human beings.''
Kaepernick was benched last November by former coach Jim Tomsula in favor of Blaine Gabbert. The 2011 second-round pick, less heralded than other QBs in his draft class, went on season-ending injured reserve and needed a trio of surgeries: his non-throwing left shoulder, left knee and right thumb. He hardly disappeared as a backup, instead taking his old job back last month.
And he made international headlines when he stopped standing for the national anthem in what he said was a protest against racial oppression. First he sat, then he kneeled. Others joined him.
As his team struggles, the 28-year-old Kaepernick appears as collected as any losing quarterback in the league. This is the same guy who led San Francisco to a runner-up Super Bowl finish following the 2012 season.
''He's definitely been tested, going through his surgeries, losing the starting job, battling through rehab,'' 49ers safety Antoine Bethea said. ''All the things he's been doing, I think he's really grown. From the outside looking in, not getting too personal, I think he's come to a place where he's very comfortable within himself. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about.''
From the NBA and WNBA to high school sports, college football and the U.S. women's national soccer team to college basketball, Kaepernick's stance has become a major talking point.
Coaches are speaking about it to their players, bosses or athletic directors. The Golden State Warriors are trying to improve communication with civic leaders in diverse downtown Oakland.
Kaepernick's reputation within his team might be better than ever, too.
''It's not an image thing. What does the typical quarterback look like? That's the main question,'' wide receiver Quinton Patton said. ''People try to put him in this quarterback category or that quarterback category, but what is a typical quarterback category? Why judge a person or look at him a different kind of way just because he's different. God made everybody different, right? So everybody can't be the same.''
Kaepernick, his girlfriend and some others developed the curriculum for the camp, which dealt with everything from cultural and social challenges to college options and preparation.
''It's an event we wanted to put on to help give them the opportunity to succeed, give them some resources, some knowledge that can help progress them, help them understand the current state of things as well as how to handle different situations and how to succeed in different situations,'' Kaepernick said. ''We wanted to make sure it was something that was very grassroots, that was true to what we believed and the message wasn't skewed or misrepresented or manipulated by a corporation that we had to stand behind.''
NOTES: WR Torrey Smith knew the Niners were shopping him before the trade deadline, noting ''the selfish side of you, you think sometimes a change of scenery would be a good thing but I know I'm very committed to everybody in this locker room and playing well.'' ... RB Carlos Hyde (shoulder) returned to practice, wearing a blue non-contact jersey. He missed the team's 34-17 loss to Tampa Bay on Oct. 23. ... The 49ers signed S Vinnie Sunseri to the practice squad.
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