The Protesting of the National Anthem Essay
Freedom of speech is ensconced in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, penned in even before the right to bear arms. Then why are so many Americans upset with Colin Kaepernick? All Kaepernick did was, at first, refuse to stand for the national anthem and then, knelt. His kneeling has become a symbol of political protest in 2017: “taking a knee” is now a common phrase. All the controversy surrounding Kaepernick’s protest has obscured the underlying meaning of the message related to racial justice, and specifically to police brutality. Understandably, the national anthem has sentimental value for many Americans. Refusing to stand or taking a knee can be construed as being disrespectful because Americans have been taught since they were in Kindergarten that one should not only stand during anthems, but also place their right hand over their heart when saying the “Pledge of Allegiance.” Kaepernick’s actions cut to the heart of what it means to be an American.
Sports as an Arena for Social Protest
Protesting the Symbol or Protesting the Nation?
The Real Reason For the Backlash Against Colin Kaepernick
Talk about other, past instances where athletes have used sports as a vehicle for social protest.
How the fury over Kaepernick reveals the schisms in American society.
What does it mean to be American? Is it more important to show respect during the national anthem or to protest the anthem to protest injustice?
Can use an example from the past to grab the reader’s attention, or describe Kaepernick’s kneeling.
A. The history of sports and protest
B. Police brutality as an issue
C. Effects of the protest
1. Influences on other players, started a movement
2. Impact on Kaepernick’s career
3. Financial impact
The importance of protest.
In 1968, John Carlos and Tommie Smith made headlines around the world when, after taking Silver and Gold at the Mexico City Olympics, they used their 30 seconds of fame to protest the national anthem of the United States. Instead of placing a hand dutifully on their hearts, Carlos and Smith raised a fist: the universal sign of fighting against unjust power. Protests are nothing new in sports. Because of the intimate connection between race, power, and sports in America, it makes sense that some of the most important sports-related political protests have also been protests related to racial and social justice. The most important sports-related political protest of this generation is Colin Kaepernick’s “taking a knee.” Like a long line of luminaries before him, Kaepernick used his power as a sports celebrity to draw attention to racial injustices in the United States.
The backlash against Kaepernick is a sign that Americans are not yet ready, willing, or able to make reparations and resolve the problem of racism.
Protesting the anthem is a supremely patriotic act, as Kaepernick strives to make his nation a better place.
The History of Sports and Protest
The most notable early example of a protest against racism in America using sports and the national anthem was with Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith. Even before John Carlos and Tommie Smith protested the Star Spangled Banner, Muhammad Ali, the world’s most beloved fighter, also used sports as an arena for political protest. Ali remained an activist his entire life, one of the reasons he became world famous. Ali protested the Vietnam War. The results of his protest included jail time, and he also “aroused the hate of much of the nation and shaved years off his career,” (Link, 2017). Yet Ali put the political message above his career. The same can be said for Colin Kaepernick. As Schoeller (2017) points out, Kaepernick “was one of the best football players in the world” but because he took a knee, he is out of work.
Many other sports heroes have protested against racial injustice. Another notable example from recent years is the Miami Heat team collectively wearing black hoodies to protest against the unjustified killing of Trayvon Martin and the way the court systems and the media handled it (Link, 2017). LeBron, Kobe, and other former Heat players continue to protest current examples of racial injustice, just as Kaepernick does. “Sport has always been a canvas used to challenge convention, prove the worthiness of a marginalized group and prod the nation to live up to its stated ideals,” (Bunch & Skorton 1). Using sport as a means of social and political protest makes sense because of the connections between sports and the media. Even amateur sports like Olympic track and field garners millions of viewers from around the world. With a readymade audience, the political activist has the ability to communicate a message in a meaningful, immediate, and powerful way. Typically, corporate sponsors call the shots with the messages that go on the air. With protesters like Kaepernick, they take back their power. No longer allowing themselves to be swayed or seduced by the promise of money, ethical players like Ali, LeBron James, and Kaepernick fight the powers that be.
The Context of the Issue
When Colin Kaepernick decided to sit out the national anthem, he did not just suddenly do it. There was a greater social and political context within which the protests take place. Before Kaepernick’s taking the knee, there were several public protests by the organization Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter was organized through social media in part to protest police brutality against people of color. The Rodney King riots in the 1980s failed to lead to meaningful changes in law enforcement, and a long list has ensued of other instances in which police have assaulted or killed unarmed African American men. Countless other cases that were never big enough for the mainstream media have gone unreported.
In the age of digital media and instant communications, it has been harder to ignore the violence and miscarriages of justice. Many police departments also have policies related to officers having to wear body cameras. Because of the proliferation of body camera and bystander mobile phone footage, the extent and severity of police brutality came to light. Black Lives Matter protested the violence but was criticized heavily in the media. Backlash against Black Lives Matter highlights the ways peaceful protests are often misconstrued when they upset the status quo. Martin Luther King was also placed in jail and criticized for wanting civil rights to progress at a faster pace. Yet no one today criticizes King.
Effects of the Protest
The protests started by Kaepernick have blossomed into a full-scale movement, replete with the #takeaknee hashtag. Like Black Lives Mater, Kaepernick has made a difference by raising awareness and capitalizing on the power of social media and in Kaepernick’s case, the mainstream media. It is certainly possible that eventually there will be some real procedural justice changes that led to fewer instances of police brutality. Kaepernick has also made protesting more accessible to younger and less powerful players, who may take inspiration from Kaepernick and refuse to cower under pressure.
However, not all the effects of the Kaepernick protests have been positive. The entire NFL has been in turmoil over the protests. Even the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is under investigation for collusion, revealing the sinister ways institutionalized racism works in America. Also, the discourse has not really changed. Those who criticize Kaepernick continue to do so with a vehemence that suggests that they are not paying attention. Many have accused Kaepernick of hating America or hating the military, grossly misunderstanding the principles of free speech and what standing for the anthem really means. “When Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem, people here in his hometown were angry—people were angry all over the damn place. Sure, their emotions were tied up in various tendrils of patriotism, but many of them felt burned, duped, hoodwinked, bamboozled,” (Schoeller, 2017, p. 1). It seems that many Americans are being confronted by their own skewed views of what patriotism means or how to display it. Putting a hand over the heart during the anthem is not patriotism. Do a degree, fighting in a war to defend one’s country is the ultimate sign of patriotism but being a political activist is, too. Being a political activist means making incredible sacrifices for the common good. What else is patriotism but putting country before self?
Sacrifice and patriotism are exactly what Kaepernick embodies. As Hansen (n.d.) puts it, “young, black athletes are not disrespecting America or the military by taking a knee during the anthem. They are respecting the best thing about America” (1). Protesting peacefully using the very symbols upon which the culture is based is a sign of respect for the culture, a desire to improve it and build a bridge from an undesirable past into a more perfect future. Kaepernick donated around a million dollars to the cause, in addition to sacrificing years of lost income due to being benched from the NFL (Rosenberg, 2017). Sports Illustrated has, however, honored Kaepernick and his actions with the 2017 Muhammad Ali Legacy Award (Rosenberg, 2017). There has been promise of change, too, given the fact that the sports media itself seems split. On the one hand, Kaepernick’s actions and the related protests have caused many white fans to be angry and tune out of the games. This has led to lost revenues and dropped sponsorships. On the other hands, Kaepernick has won this important award issued by one of the biggest names in sports media. Whatever team decides to sign Kaepernick might garner the biggest new fan audience in football history.
Kaepernick has already created a legacy, but there is still a lot of work to do on the horizon. He still does not play the sport he was born and trained to play. Yet he capitalized on his opportunity in the spotlight to alert America of its continued problems, problems the nation has tried to sweep under the carpet. Kaepernick has already ensured he will be mentioned alongside names like Muhammed Ali as athletes strong in body and mind, who stand up and fight against injustice. In Kaepernick’s case, standing up involves taking a knee.
Browne, R. (2017). Colin Kaepernick has a job. Bleacher Report. 12 Sept, 2017. http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2732670-colin-kaepernick-anthem-race-in-america
Bunch, L. and Skorton, D. (2017) “Protests in Sports are Nothing New.” The Washington Post. Sept 28, 2017. Retrieved online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/protests-in-sports-arent-new-at-all/2017/09/28/cef6546c-a3c4-11e7-8cfe-d5b912fabc99_story.html?utm_term=.c9067bdfe762
Hansen, D. “Hansen Unplugged: Anthem protests not about disrespecting the flag.” Retrieved online: http://www.wfaa.com/sports/nfl/dale-hansen-unplugged-national-anthem-protests-flag-nfl/478596561
Link, T. (2017). The 6 most iconic times American athletes protested racism before Colin Kaepernick. Salon. 28 Aug, 2017. https://www.salon.com/2017/08/26/the-6-most-iconic-times-american-athletes-protested-racism-before-colin-kaepernick/
Rosenberg, M. (2017). Colin Kaepernick Is Recipient of 2017 Sports Illustrated Muhammad Ali Legacy Award. Sports Illustrated. 30 Nov, 2017. https://www.si.com/sportsperson/2017/11/30/colin-kaepernick-muhammad-ali-legacy-award
Schoeller, M. (2017). Colin Kaepernick will not be silenced. GQ. 13 Nov, 2017. https://www.gq.com/story/colin-kaepernick-will-not-be-silenced
Sports is a valid and effective venue for social and political protest. Sitting or kneeling during the national anthem is a form of peaceful protest and a measure of free speech. These are not only justifiable acts, but necessary ones. Kaepernick has been disruptive, and in this case, being disruptive is a good thing. Rosa Parks was disruptive, and so was Martin Luther King. After the controversy subsides, Americans will look back at this point in history and wonder how anyone could have criticized Kaepernick for his earnest activismDownload Full Essay