Former San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said that, despite initial discomfort with Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protests last season, he has come to view his former quarterback as "a special person and a hero."
Kaepernick, who is currently an unsigned free agent, protested racial injustice in the United States first by sitting and then by kneeling during the pregame playing of the national anthem while on the 49ers last season.
Harbaugh told The MMQB's Michael Rosenberg that he first thought "I don't really like this," after Kapernick began his protest, but his views shifted when players on his team at Michigan supported Kapernick by raising their fists during the anthem.
"It wasn’t a distraction because we were listening to what they were saying," Harbaugh said. "And they had a valid point. And they continue to have a valid point."
Former 49ers coach Chip Kelly, who led the team during the season, also said Kaepernick was not a distraction for his team.
"Colin was focused on football," Kelly told the MMQB. "He was all about the team and trying to help us win.”
Kaepernick, 29, started 11 games last season, throwing for 2,241 yards, 16 touchdowns and four interceptions on a 49ers team that finished 2-14. He signed a $114 million, six-year contract with the 49ers in 2014, but restructured the contract to a two-year deal. After opting out of his contract this month, he became a free agent.
ESPN's Adam Schefter recently reported that Kaepernick will stand for the anthem next season, given he finds a team, although Kaepernick has not commented publicly.
"When you really stop and listen," Harbaugh said, "and know where Colin is coming from … he’s trying to do this for his future kids, for my kids, for all of our kids. He's a special person and a hero, in my opinion."