Today, sport is the field that unites millions of people around the globe. Individuals with various backgrounds and from different geographical areas are eager to share a common interest and passion for a particular kind of sports, following specific rules and standards. However, even professional sports may be challenged by certain social issues, and racism is one of them. In the United States, the problem of racism towards African Americans continues to bother the nation, and the deaths of innocent black citizens provoke a number of reactions. In sports, national protests against racism have a long history, including the Olympic boycott in 1968 and a recent movement of Colin Kaepernick. To be successful and obtain positive outcomes, a movement should have a solid background, a clear goal, well-chosen tactics, and devoted participants. Colin Kaepernick was not a professional activist at the moment of his first protest, but his ideas helped many people recognize the power of society against prejudice and discrimination. This paper aims at analyzing the recent Kaepernick’s movement and discussing the role of the historical Olympic boycott as a part of the anti-racial wave in the United States.
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Many movements and protests are organized to underline how unfair and serious the racial situation in the United States can be. During the last several decades, people find it helpful to gather in groups and share their concerns about prevailing injustice. However, a number of cruel and unreasonable events still bother the American population. For example, one Thursday morning in July 2016 was tragic for many Americans because of the news about the death of Philando Castile, a black male driver (Donnella, 2016). The day before, people discussed the outcomes of the shooting of another black man, a father of five children, Alton Sterling (Donnella, 2016). Social media users, residents, and celebrities demonstrated their discontent about police brutality and the inability to solve a long-lasting racism problem.
Unfortunately, these two deaths were not the only ones in the year 2016. Protests against police began at the end of May when George Floyd was killed at the knee of a white police officer during an arrest (Dichter, 2020). The representatives of the Black Lives Matter movement and independent individuals shared their solidarity with the families of the unfairly killed black men officially. Still, it was hard to define the level of grief and disappointment, and new protests and debates occurred in different regions.
Colin Kaepernick did not set the goal to start a movement and demonstrate his attitude towards social injustice and racial problems. It was an ordinary event of the National Football League (NFL) when San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Kaepernick, refused to stand during the anthem but began kneeling (Dichter, 2020). Some journalists and researchers define that moment as critical in Kaepernick’s life because it was the beginning of his career’s crashing down (Dichter, 2020). At the same time, Armour (2020) admits that if people did not understand the message of the football player after several black men’s death, they would never do. From 2016 till now, the representatives of different teams from various kinds of sports continue following Kaepernick’s example, proving the correctness of his intention and tactics.
Goals and Demands
As soon as his protest was noticed, Kaepernick became a frequently discussed figure in social media, local and national news, and public conversations. The man explained his decision as the necessity to protest the oppression of black Americans, but many critics described him as “an ignorant, washed-up millionaire athlete who just wanted attention” or even an “uneducated idiot” (Levin, 2016). Despite the existing opinions, it was evident the NFL stadiums became the source of new protests against racism and white police brutality in relation to black citizens. The goal of this co-called Kaepernick movement was to call attention to the current problems of racial inequality. The participants did not demand anything either financially or socially but used kneeling as a respectful gesture that could make people think about their mistakes and misjudgments that lead to human deaths.
It is necessary to admit that Kaepernick was not alone in his desire to demonstrate his grief about the death of black citizens in the United States. During the 2016 preseason game, Eric Reid, Kaepernick’s teammate, joined the initiative to recognize the level of social tragedy. The current president Donald Trump considered this idea as a threat to national security and proposed firing players who would do the same (Armour, 2020). Despite the oppression and criticism, more NFL players found it obligatory to support Kaepernick, and during the next game, 11 people joined the protest, including Brandon Marshall, Tim Tebow, and Marcus Peters. Next NFL seasons proved the increased number of protesters either to support the incorrectness of police actions or to oppose Trump’s decision to fire players in different states. With time, more celebrities, political leaders, and even police officers condemned racism in their public statements or video releases.
Kaepernick’s protest lacked specific tactics or strategies because it was not a planned or well-organized movement. It was a peaceful protest with no words or evidence to be used. It was the time when no power played a role in human relationships. Social justice is an independent decision of every individual, and no extra words are necessary. The power of imbalance in American society cannot be ignored (Dichter, 2020). Instead of supporting the quarterback and his peace plan in regard to the oppression of black people, more reasons were found to accuse him of the lack of patriotism and poorly defined religious aspects (Beydoun, 2016). In addition to peaceful kneeling, Kaepernick participated in Nike advertisement as a step to make his statement noticeable globally.
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Impact of the Historical Movement
The example of Kaepernick was not a single attempt in American history, and many historical movements can serve as proof that racial judgments and misbehaviors create a serious problem for people. In sports, the Olympic Boycott could be used as a helpful tool to understand the worth of the recent Kaepernick’s protest. Again, it was the moment when the US national anthem was played, and two winners of the 200-meter race, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their gloved hands in a Nazi-like salute (Edwards, 2018). The men did neither look at the American flag nor demonstrate any respect for traditions. This movement was a part of the protest organized by Edwards to reject racial segregation and minimize the impact of racism in sports.
Compared to the recent movements, the Olympic boycott had clear purposes. Edwards (2018) wanted to remove all-white teams from South African and Southern Rhodesia, restore the title of Muhammad Ali, remove anti-black Avery Brundage, and add more black coaches. A coach in a team plays an important role, and if this person ignores discrimination, black athletes are challenged by racial inequalities and strict rules (Underwood, 1969). Therefore, the ideas of Olympic protesters seemed to be reasonable and clear but too radical, which failed within less than a year.
Movement Effectiveness and Success
The success and effectiveness of social movements are two different concepts that are characterized by their goals and outcomes. In Kaepernick’s case, it is correct to say that the idea of a peaceful protest by kneeling during an anthem was effective. As well as the representatives of the Olympic boycott, players believe in being noticed during a memorable event. In sports, an anthem is one of the most crucial traditions that cannot be neglected. The decision to knee was effective because it drew much attention. However, its success in the situation may be questionable because of the outcomes either for the participants or society. The reaction of Donald Trump and public criticism as “an idiot” or the “dumb jock” did not bring benefits to his career (Beydoun, 2016). Kaepernick’s life was thoroughly investigated, including his family relationships, racial identity, and religious beliefs (Beydoun, 2016). Such approaches to understanding the protest’s nature negatively influenced or, at least, challenged his career and social life. Anyway, the recent movement was effective and successful in terms of defining racial discrimination, police brutality, and freedom of speech as urgent topics for today’s Americans.
Despite the existing positive and negative opinions about Colin Kaepernick, he is a new figure in the development of the civil rights movement in the United States. His message about police brutality and racial injustice was properly delivered in 2016 and continue to affect sports events today. His kneeling was not an aggressive or radical tactic but a human response to black people’s deaths because of police prejudice. The historical movement during the Olympic Games in 1968 served as a solid background for current protests and discontent. Although both ideas are characterized by different demands and outcomes, they have already contributed to a better understanding of inequalities in American society.
Armour, N. (2020). Opinion: NFL’s gestures in confronting racism are meaningless so long as Colin Kaepernick remains unsigned. USA Today.
Beydoun, K. A. (2016). Colin Kaepernick: Mix of racism, anti-Islam rhetoric are increasingly toxic. Black History Always.
Dichter, M. (2020). Talking Kaepernick’s lead, Black athletes increasingly forcing change in pro sports. CBC Sports.
Donnella, L. (2016). Two days, two death: The police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Code Switch.
Edwards, H. (2018). The revolt of the Black athlete: 50th anniversary edition. University of Illinois Press.
Levin, J. (2016). Colin Kaepernick’s protest is working. Slate.
Underwood, J. (1969). The desperate coach. Sports Illustrated Vault.