At the beginning of the 2016 NFL season, pro football quarterback Colin Kaepernick made a gesture of solidarity against police brutality that rocked the football and political world. By taking a knee during the national anthem of the United States, the former Super Bowl starter sought to draw attention to the social justice issue he aimed to address. Kaepernick arguably could not have brought more attention to himself and his protest than he did, with his form of protest polarizing the sport and media landscape.
Kaepernick chose the kneel as a form of protest as he had been informed by former Seattle Seahawk and Green Beret Nate Boyer that kneeling would be seen as more respectful than sitting during the anthem. After Kaepernick’s initial protest, players from other teams throughout the league began to join, further spreading the message. This protest divided the country, as talking heads on both sides of the aisle gave the issue massive media attention. For those on the Republican side of the media, these protests were primarily seen as “disrespectful” to veterans and the country itself, while left-leaning media largely voiced messages of support for Kaepernick and fellow protesters. Kaepernick’s actions were so successful that even the then US President Donald Trump gave it attention in a now infamous soundbite.
Much of this media attention, both in the traditional and social media spaces, wrongly interpreted the protest. As previously mentioned, much of the right side of the political spectrum saw the protests as disrespectful toward the military and thought Kaepernick to be protesting the country rather than standing up for a social justice issue. Social media was full of pundits and regular people calling for Kaepernick and other protesters to be cut and banned from the NFL and for this kind of protest not to be allowed in the first place. Social media hashtags like ‘BoycottNFL’ began to trend as a vocal minority of conservatives began to voice that they would be turning off the sport due to these protests if something was not done to counter them.
For every social media post against Kaepernick, someone would post in support of the dual-threat QB. Much of Kaepernick’s and other supporting players’ time in locker room interviews were spent attempting to guide the press toward the vital message of their protests rather than what some people had taken them out of context to mean. Kaepernick routinely had to quell allegations that these were anti-military to get the focus of the message back on track.
The media narrative of the right attempted to hinder the message of Kaepernick’s protest. Still, with how much the controversy got the general American public talking, there is no way this media attention didn’t end up spreading the message further than it otherwise would have gotten instead. Kaepernick was eventually allegedly blackballed by the NFL and out of a job, as many owners likely did not want to deal with the hostility signing the QB may have created. Still, the legacy of these protests lives on today. While police brutality and social justice issues still have a long way to go before being solved, it is undoubtedly that this protest was the first of many that have the problem at center stage for this country.