Kaeper­nick’s home­town deeply di­vided over protest

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Josh Peter @joshlpeter­11 USA TO­DAY Sports

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.

JOSH PETER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Ge­orge Hibbs, right, and son An­thony, cen­ter, stood in protest of Colin Kaeper­nick on Mon­day while Jeremy Hibbs sat.

JOSH PETER, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Glenn New­sum, above, says Main Street Foot­ers stopped sell­ing a Colin Kaeper­nick hot dog be­cause of the con­tro­versy.

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