Kaepernick’s hometown deeply divided over protest
TURLOCK, CALIF. When Colin Kaepernick dropped to his right knee before the national anthem Monday night, another protest commenced in his hometown.
It took place inside Jura’s Pizza Parlor, about 100 miles east of Santa Clara, where the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Los Angeles Rams.
Two men, sitting side-by-side, rose to their feet in the busy restaurant. Then they crossed their arms and stared in silence at a big-screen TV showing the image of Kaepernick, the 49ers backup quarterback.
While Kaepernick again refused to stand during The Star
Spangled Banner to protest social injustice, the two men stood in the pizza parlor to protest Kaepernick.
At the same table, a third man, Jeremy Hibbs, sat in defiance across from the two oth- ers — even though one of the men was his father and the other was his brother.
“They got their opinion, and I got mine,” Hibbs told USA TODAY Sports as his father and brother looked away. “I’m going to back Kap up.”
Debates and divisions such as this have been going on throughout the country since Kaepernick first refused to stand for the anthem before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26. Although Kaepernick grew up
in Turlock and once helped to unite his hometown, this city of 70,000 is just as conflicted as many others about his actions.
In California’s Central Valley, Turlock is known for its almonds, dairy products and, according to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, once having had more churches per capita than any other city in the USA. But it was Kaepernick, also known as “Kap,” who put Turlock on the national sports map when he helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl in the 2012 season.
A 49ers flag hangs in front of Kaepernick’s boyhood home, but his parents have since moved to nearby Modesto and have declined to comment. The head football coach at John Pitman High School, where Kaepernick starred a decade ago, also declined to talk.
“No comment” might as well be the motto among his former coaches, teammates and teachers in a city that gushed over him when he ended up in the Super Bowl.
His framed autographed jersey went up on the wall in Jura’s. Another restaurant named a hot dog in his honor. Turlock became “Kap Town.”
As Kaepernick’s protest continued on its biggest stage yet —
Monday Night Football, during the regular-season opener for the 49ers and Rams — Papiola Aghassi, general manager of the pizza parlor her family opened 37 years ago, grinned nervously as kickoff approached.
“I don’t know what to expect,” she said, and the once-unfathomable is the new normal.
About two weeks earlier, after Kaepernick first sat during the anthem, angry customers pointed to the framed Kaepernick jersey on the wall.
“Take that (expletive) down,” the customers demanded, according to Aghassi.
The next day, Aghassi said, she got a call from her brother, who also told her to take down the jersey. “Absolutely not,” she recalled telling her brother. “We support him because he’s our hometown boy.”
But support him at a potential cost
Monday night, Aghassi noted the smaller-than-usual crowd — about 80 people in a restaurant that seats up to 300. Although it was premature to know if customers boycotted Jura’s because of Kaepernick’s jersey, another restaurateur acted on similar fears.
The day after the Packers-49ers game, a TV crew showed up at Main Street Footers, a popular sandwich shop. The reporter wanted to know if the owners intended to continue serving a hot dog named in Kaepernick’s honor.
Main Street Footers promptly sacked the hot dog known as CK7, Kaepernick’s initials followed by his jersey number.
Glenn Newsum said he and his partner anticipated the outrage from customers who thought Kaepernick disrespected the American flag and the military. Axing the CK7 prompted more than a dozen calls, most from people who supported the decision, an employee said.
“The reason we did it was to stop any disruption in our business,” Newsum said.
JoLynn DiGrazia, executive director of an after-school program for disadvantaged children, said she feared speaking up for Kaepernick might cost her donations on which she depends. But it was Kaepernick who gave her the right to use his name on T-shirts that raised about $30,000 for her program, Westside Ministries. Eventually, she decided to voice her support.
She said she thought half of the backlash stemmed from Kaepernick being biracial and his image changing. In high school, Kaepernick, adopted by white parents, was widely viewed as quiet, respectful and clean-cut. He took the field Monday wearing cornrows and often wears his hair in an Afro, which DiGrazia said was seen as an affront by some of his former classmates and other Turlock residents.
“I see it as saying, ‘Boy, we thought you were white,’ ” DiGrazia said.
African Americans constitute 2% of the Turlock population compared with about 13% of the U.S. population.
After the silent protest at the pizza parlor Monday, the Hibbses addressed the question of whether race had contributed to their sentiments.
“All of a sudden he has an Afro, and it’s like, ‘ No, dude, that’s not you,’ ” George Hibbs said.
Added his son, Anthony, “The whole racism thing, it doesn’t exist here. ... You’ve got a sitting African-American president. What more do you want?”
Aghassi, keeping an eye on the patrons, encountered another disagreement in the bar area. Monica Campos and Veronica Mora, good friends who usually sit side-by-side on football nights, were sitting apart. Mora, who served in the Navy, said she was furious when Campos showed up wearing a Kaepernick jersey.
Mora said she thought Kaepernick was disrespecting the military by refusing to stand for the flag, and she found her friend wearing the No. 7 49ers jersey unforgivable — well, for about an hour.
Late in .the first half of the Rams-49ers game, Mora might have given Turlock the blueprint to repair its divide when she sidled over to her friend and spread her arms.
“Let’s hug it out,” she said.
George Hibbs, right, and son Anthony, center, stood in protest of Colin Kaepernick on Monday while Jeremy Hibbs sat.
Glenn Newsum, above, says Main Street Footers stopped selling a Colin Kaepernick hot dog because of the controversy.