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Spike Lee and Colin Kaepernick team up for ESPN docuseries about the firebrand athlete

A smiling man who has a goatee and an afro.
Colin Kaepernick arrives at the L.A. premiere of “Colin in Black and White” at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in October.
(Chris Pizzello / Invision / Associated Press)
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Oscar winner Spike Lee and ESPN have begun production on a multipart documentary focused on athlete-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick.

The project, one of many focused on the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, was announced last year as part of the Walt Disney Co.’soverall first-look deal with Kaepernick’s production company, Ra Vision Media. That partnership pledged to tell scripted and unscripted stories that explore race, social injustice and the quest for equity.

Although he ignited a firestorm about police brutality in 2016 by taking a knee during performances of the national anthem, Kaepernick has never given a full, first-person account of his journey, according to a Wednesday statement from ESPN.

“Colin in Black and White” ends before Kaepernick’s NFL career begins. Here’s a timeline of key developments since the events of the series.

Oct. 29, 2021

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The inspiring athlete is collaborating closely with Lee (“Do the Right Thing,” “Malcolm X,” “BlacKkKlansman”), who “plans to use extensive new interviews and a vast never-before-seen archive to help Kaepernick tell his story from his perspective.”

Lee, whose projects are often thought-provoking and subversive explorations of race, also announced the team-up on his Instagram account along with a photo of him and Kaepernick holding a football together. Lee’s sports repertoire includes directing the 2009 film “Kobe Doin’ Work,” which examines the work ethic and basketball skills of late Lakers star Kobe Bryant.

On Wednesday, Lee and Kaepernick also sat courtside at a New York Knicks game in Madison Square Garden.

Two men sit courtside at a basketball game.
Spike Lee, left, and Colin Kaepernick sit courtside during the Memphis Grizzlies and the New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.
(Rich Graessle / Getty Images)

The multipart documentary will be executive produced by ESPN Films and produced by 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks. Kaepernick is also partnering with former ESPN personality Jemele Hill, who is also a producer on the project. (Full disclosure: Kevin Merida, The Times’ executive editor, was involved in developing the series when he was previously a senior executive at ESPN.)

Hill tweeted Thursday that she was “very excited to be part of this historic collaboration.”

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No release date was announced for the the as-yet untitled series. But Wednesday’s announcement comes on the heels of last year’s Netflix docuseries “Colin in Black and White,” which Kaepernick narrated and Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay directed.

However, that project purposely left out Kaepernick’s historic NFL career. Instead, it focused on his youth as a mixed-race teenager from Wisconsin who was adopted by a white family and how he came to terms with his identity.

ESPN’s new project is expected to zero in on Kaepernick’s life story too. However, Kaepernick-backed projects that have come before it haven’t discussed his professional football career in depth, nor how he famously opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017 and has remained an unsigned free agent since.

The National Football League admits it was wrong about player protests. It needs to follow those words with action by ensuring that one of its 32 teams puts Colin Kaepernick on its roster.

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Nevertheless, the 34-year-old athlete has become a powerful, globally recognized brand unto himself. The activist was backed by Nike in a 2018 campaign — titled “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” — and launched forays into production and publishing.

Over the summer, he announced that he would release a children’s picture book this year called “I Color Myself Different” through Kaepernick Publishing in partnership with Scholastic as part of a multibook deal. As a publisher, he also released an anthology of essays on police abolition and is expected to release his long-awaited memoir.

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