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A visit by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to New York's Rikers Island jail facility has drawn criticism from the union representing city correction officers.

Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem last season to raise awareness to issues affecting minorities in the United States, leading to similar actions by other NFL players and repeated criticism from President Donald Trump.

The head of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association said in a statement that Kaepernick's presence at Rikers on Tuesday will encourage inmates to attack jail guards. The statement also noted that Kaepernick once wore socks depicting police as cartoon pigs.

The union was critical of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Cynthia Brann for extending an invitation to Kaepernick.

Department of Correction spokesman Peter Thorne said in a statement that the purpose of Kaepernick's visit was to "share a message of hope and inspiration."

At the prison, Kaepernick held two 45-minute sessions with small groups of inmates at the jail's George Motchan Detention Center. He spoke about social justice issues and talked about his decision to kneel during the national anthem.

"No cameras. No promotion. He's just helping turn around lives many people have given up on," a spokesperson for the mayor said. "He's the real deal."