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Colin Kaepernick compares treatment of players at NFL combine to slavery in new Netflix series

Bubba Wallace on Colin Kaepernick's protest
Bubba Wallace recounts his thoughts seeing Colin Kaepernick kneel during the national anthem 02:21

Free agent NFL quarterback and activist Colin Kaepernick compared the treatment of players at the NFL combine to slavery. The comparison was made in the coming-of-age Netflix series following Kaepernick's high school years called "Colin in Black & White," which premiered Friday.

Speaking in the first episode, Kaepernick described how pro hopefuls are treated at the NFL combine, a four-day showcase where many prospects undergo physical and mental tests in front of football team coaches, executives, owners and scouts. 

"Coaches will tell you they're looking for warriors, killers, beasts," he said. "They say they want you to be an animal out there. And you wanna give them that. ... What they don't want you to understand, is what's being established is a power dynamic." 

"Before they put you on the field, teams poke, prod and examine you, searching for any defect that might affect your performance. No boundary respected, no dignity left in tact," he added, as scenes from a slavery auction play out. 

Activities at the annual event can include weightlifting, sprints, medical checks and reportedly "inappropriate questions" during in-person interviews. NFL teams also conduct background checks and interviews to gauge players' personality traits and Wonderlic tests to determine their intelligence level before deciding whether to commit millions of dollars.

Kaepernick received some heat for the slavery comparison as critics pointed out that the NFL combine is how teams can evaluate talent and is one step for many players en route to becoming millionaires. 

Utah Rep. Burgess Owens, a former NFL safety who played for the Jets and Raiders, criticized Kaepernick on Twitter for comparing "the evil endured by so many of our ancestors to a bunch of millionaires who CHOSE to play game."

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who is the series co-creator along with Kaepernick, directed the opening episode and discussed the comparison on "CBS Mornings" last week. DuVernay said the comparison is about "social control of a Black body" and not about the economics associated with becoming a pro athlete.

"It's about saying I will measure your value based on your muscles, how fast you run," DuVernay explained. "So that's the point that that's trying to make. And that was really Colin's idea to say as the Black men are being processed through this combine process, this combine experience, what that felt like to him."

"It felt very similar to our ancestors, who were also processed for profit," she added. 

Kaepernick, 33, hasn't played a professional football game since 2016 after leading kneeling protests during the national anthem to bring attention to police brutality and racial injustice. While the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback said he continues to train in hopes of an NFL comeback, he maintains he's been kept off of the field because of the protests. 

Los Angeles Premiere Of Netflix's "Colin In Black And White" - Arrivals
Colin Kaepernick, Ava DuVernay and Jaden Michael arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of Netflix's "Colin In Black And White" at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on October 28, 2021 in Los Angeles, California.  Kevin Winter
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