Major Papers

Keywords

sport protest; social movement; kneeling; NFL; Colin Kaepernick

Abstract

The ‘kneeling protests’ happening in the National Football League (NFL) have transformed football stadiums across the country into unlikely, yet impactful, spaces of resistance to racist rhetoric and racial violence. The reactions to the protests have been split, to say the least. Some have praised the kneeling as a powerful and moving display of civil resistance, culminating in the most high profile protester, Colin Kaepernick, being recognized as Amnesty International’s 2018 Ambassador of Consciousness. Others have interpreted the protests as a sign of disrespect towards the American flag, national anthem, and military. Now well into its third season, the symbolic power associated with the act of kneeling on the NFL may have ran its course. Broadcasters made clear their decision to not televise the anthems before the games, in a sense choking the kneeling protests of the oxygen that made for their fiery support and opposition in the first place – their circulation via traditional mass media broadcast. However, Kaepernick and #TakeAKnee are as widely discussed today as they were now almost three years ago. In theorizing the athlete/activist in the digital age, the aim of this research is to answer the following central research question: How was visibility maintained and the narrative of the kneeling protests controlled through deliberate image making and circulation, considering the ever-shifting, yet overlaid, physical and digital sites of resistance? The primary focus of this paper is the ability of the social movement to adapt strategy and tactic when space/place is denied or limited. It references a theoretical model (Tufecki, 2017) that measures a social movement’s power in terms of its i) narrative, ii) disruptive, and iii) electoral/institutional “capacities,” and how it “signals” to them.

Primary Advisor

Brian Brown

Program Reader

Kyle Asquith

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Communication and Social Justice

Document Type

Major Research Paper

Convocation Year

2019

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