NEW YORK — Hundreds of demonstrators gathered at the NFL's Manhattan headquarters on Wednesday evening to show their support for Colin Kaepernick, the former quarterback who drew controversy last season for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial disparity.
Kaepernick, who took his San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013, has yet to be signed by an NFL team ahead of the 2017 season. His supporters believe the reason is the political stance he chose to take rather than his ability to play the game.
Many in the large crowd outside the NFL's offices on Wednesday evening wore Kaepernick jerseys and some held signs calling for a boycott of the NFL or reading “Black Lives Matter.”
RELATED: Colin Kaepernick through his career
Colin Kaepernick through his career
Colin Kaepernick through his career
30 December 2008: Nevada Wolf Pack quarterback Colin Kaepernick (10) in the Roady's Humanitarian Bowl held at Bronco Stadium in Boise, ID. (Photo by Steve Conner/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS - OCTOBER 02: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #10 of the Nevada Reno Wolf Pack celebrates with fans after defeating the UNLV Rebels 44-26 at Sam Boyd Stadium October 2, 2010 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - CIRCA 2011: In this handout image provided by the NFL, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers poses for his NFL headshot circa 2011 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by NFL via Getty Images)
MOBILE, AL - JANUARY 29: Colin Kaepernick #10 #10 of the North Team scrambles out of the pocket while taking on the South Team during the fourth quarter of the Under Armour Senior Bowl on January 29, 2011 at Ladd-Pebbles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images for Under Armour)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - AUGUST 12: Colin Kaepernick # 7 of the San Francisco 49ers defends as his team plays the New Orleans Saints during their pre season game at Louisiana Superdome on August 12, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 1: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws the ball from the pocket against the San Diego Chargers during their preseason NFL Game on September 1, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San DIego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers throws before a game against the Seattle Seahawks on October 18, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California. The 49ers won 13-6. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 09: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs down the field in between plays during their game against the Miami Dolphins at Candlestick Park on December 9, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 12: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers celebrates after running in a touchdown in the first quarter against the Green Bay Packers during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Candlestick Park on January 12, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers hugs a teammate as they celebrate in the locker room after the 49ers defeat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers answers questions on his tattoos during Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday, January 29, 2013, in New Orleans, Louisiana.. (George Bridges/MCT via Getty Images)
NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 03: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up against the Baltimore Ravens during Super Bowl XLVII at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - FEBRUARY 09: Professional football player/presenter Colin Kaepernick attends the Third Annual Hall of Game Awards hosted by Cartoon Network at Barker Hangar on February 9, 2013 in Santa Monica, California. 23270_002_SK_0224.JPG (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/WireImage)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 08: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs onto the field for their preseason NFL game against the Denver Broncos at Candlestick Park on August 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 25: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambles away from the rush of Fred Evans #90 of the Minnesota Vikings in the first quarter at Candlestick Park on August 25, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 26: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before a game against the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome on September 26, 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Michael Thomas/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers runs the ball in the first half against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 20, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 20: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts during a NFL game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 20, 2013 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/ Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - JANUARY 19: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers walks off the field after losing to the Seattle Seahawks 23-17 during the 2014 NFC Championship at CenturyLink Field on January 19, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - NOVEMBER 02: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers looks on from the sidelines against the St. Louis Rams during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on November 2, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - AUGUST 29: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to facing the Denver Broncos during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
20 September 2015: San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7)  in action during a game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, PA. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire/Corbis via Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - OCTOBER 18: Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up prior to playing the Baltimore Ravens in their NFL game at Levi's Stadium on October 18, 2015 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers fires the team up on the field prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on November 27, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida. The Dolphins defeated the 49ers 31-24. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 24: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up before the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on December 24, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - JANUARY 1: Eric Reid #35, Colin Kaepernick #7 and Eli Harold #58 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Levi Stadium on January 1, 2017 in Santa Clara, California. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers 25-23. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
Discover More Like This
BACK TO SLIDE
"We are here because we believe that Colin Kaepernick, deserves a job," said Democratic strategist and political commentator Symone Sanders at the start of at the "United We Stand" rally. "And we also believe that the Nation Football League has been complicit in the [ostracizing] of Colin Kaepranick and today it's time for the NFL to take a stand."
Kaepernick opted out of his 49ers contract in March and with the NFL pre-season underway, protests have continued in his absence. On Monday, about a dozen Cleveland Browns players knelt and prayed in silent protest during the national anthem — only one white player, Seth DeValve, was among those kneeling.
“We know that Kaep has been taking a knee for reverence and the memory of those who have lost their lives to the police, others are now taking a knee and sitting down for all the victims of white supremacy and white nationalism — even white players are doing it now," said reverend and radio host Mark Thompson at the Manhattan rally.
Several attendees heralded Kaepernick for taking a stand from such a high profile position and risking millions of dollars in the process — and some even likened him to boxer and civil rights champion Muhammad Ali, who famously refused to serve in the Vietnam War in protest.
"We have a modern-day Muhammad Ali," said Es-pranza Humphrey, 22, of the Bronx, referring to the legendary boxer's stance on fighting in the Vietnam war and other social issues. "This is someone who is really standing up for something."
Humphrey said the NFL should "not condemn what he did, but praise what he did and say 'we promote free speech.'"
Andrew DeSilva, 32, said he felt it was unfair that Kaepernick was out of a job while other players who were involved in other more serious scandals, such as those accused of domestic violence, still got to play.
"I don't like the stance the NFL has taken on him," said DeSilva, of New York. "I appreciate the things that he has stood for."
Wearing a Kaepernick jersey and holding a sign calling for an NFL boycott, J.J. Senior, 44, said he has been a 49ers fan since he was a child and when Kaepernick came off the bench "I fell in love with his game play."
Senior, who came from New Jersey, said he did not understand Kaepernick's protest at first "but, now that I do, I fully support it."
"He’s bringing attention to this really ugly issue," he said, also likening Kapernick to Ali.
"It's evident — knowing he might be giving up millions to do what he is doing, to bring issues like this into the forefront," he said.
"All I’m asking is I want him to get a fair shot, like everybody else is," he added.
Earlier Wednesday, the NAACP sent a letter calling for a meeting with the NFL to discuss the issue of free speech and Kaepernick’s position in the debate. Sanders said at the rally that the NFL declined the meeting.
“Last season, Mr. Kaepernick chose to exercise his first amendment right by protesting the inequitable treatment of people of color in America,” said NAACP interim President and CEO Derrick Johnson in the letter. “By quietly taking a knee during the national anthem, he was able to shine a light on the many injustices faced by people of color, particularly the issue of police misconduct toward communities of color.”
Johnson wrote that it was becoming clear it was "no sheer coincidence" that Kaepernick was not yet signed to a team.
"No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech – to do so is in violation of his rights under the Constitution and the NFL’s own regulations," he wrote.
NAACP national board member and New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes said at the rally they wanted "send a clear signal" and making money off of players, "it's about respect for our communities and especially for our black brothers, when 70 percent of your players are African Americans."
"We're standing today for his rights," she said of Kaepernick.