Kaepernick: A Ripple Effect

By: Megan O’Neill*

    What started out as a relatively unnoticed protest against police brutality last August, Colin Kaepernick’s action of “taking a knee” during the national anthem has sparked a movement throughout America’s sporting teams.

    Over the last 13 months, more than 3,500 people have joined Kaepernick’s movement against racial injustice.[1]  The peaceful protests, which include kneeling, linking arms, or raising fists during the anthem, have spread beyond the NFL to professional teams such as the WNBA and have trickled down to the collegiate, high school, and even youth league levels.

    Just last week football players at Midland High School in Michigan planned a silent protest during their game’s national anthem.[2]  Cheerleaders from Kennesaw State University in Georgia took a knee out of sight after the university banned them from entering the field until after the anthem, following a previous kneeling demonstration.[3]  Members of a marching band in Ames, Iowa walked out off the field last week when their principal told them they could not kneel.[4]

    Over 200 protests have been tracked.[5]  These span across 41 states and include 50 colleges and 68 high schools with some form of protest action.[6]  The real question is what is next step for Kaepernick’s cause?

    For starters, the protests have revived talk about ongoing racial injustice in the U.S. across all ages. Coaches should be engaging in discussions with their teams, especially at the high school and collegiate level, and encouraging players to speak about their concerns. Schools and universities can use the protests to educate students on how to combat the injustice and discuss the steps they can take to mitigate conflict. Talking about racism is uncomfortable, but Kaepernick has given the U.S. along with its school system a platform for discussion. 

    Last month, President Donald Trump fueled the movement when he criticized the NFL and its owners for allowing players to, in his opinion, disrespect the American flag. He tweeted “The issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem. NFL must respect this!"[7]  NFL players overwhelmingly responded with more participation than ever while protesting the anthem during the subsequent week of football games. This is a classic example of how much easier it is to discuss disrespecting the flag than it is to address the underlying issue of racism.

    Trump’s criticisms take the protests beyond discussion and to the next level: action.  The Seattle Seahawks started a donation fund for equality and justice. It is called the “Seahawks Players Equality & Justice for All Action Fund” and will be used to combat “injustice and inequality by supporting leadership and education programs.”[8]  The goal of the fund is to “build a more compassionate and inclusive society.”[9] 

    The Indianapolis Colts paralleled the Seahawks’ action by starting their own “fund for equality.”[10]  The fund’s creation happened a week after the team issued a strong statement in support of their players’ protests and wore T-shirts during warmups.[11]  The fund is to support charities “working to promote equality, improve relationships between law enforcement and the community and provide opportunities for minorities.”[12] 

    These tangible actions are only the beginning of a monumental movement started by Kaepernick. Hopefully these two teams have started a trend that will motivate others to take the next step beyond discussion.

 

* Staff Writer, Villanova University Sports Law Society Blog; J.D. Candidate, May 2020, Villanova University School of Law.

 

[1] Gibbs, Lindsay, One Man Started a Movement: Tracking the Kaepernick Effect, ThinkProgress (Sep. 26, 2017), thinkprogress.org/kaepernick-effect-database-b2f50ca7277f/.

[2] Strickland, Patrick, ‘Take a Knee' Anti-Racist Protests Move beyond the NFL, Al Jazeera (Oct. 20, 2017), www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/10/knee-anti-racist-protests-move-nfl-171019153538456.html.

[3] Id.

[4] Gibbs, Lindsay, One Man Started a Movement: Tracking the Kaepernick Effect, ThinkProgress (Sep. 26, 2017), thinkprogress.org/kaepernick-effect-database-b2f50ca7277f/.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Donald Trump Returns to Twitter to Comment on NFL Protests, Discuss Race, USA Today (Sep. 25, 2017), www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/2017/09/25/donald-trump-returns-twitter-comment-nfl-protests-discuss-race-national-anthem/699115001/.

[8] After NFL Protests, Seahawks Start Fund to Fight 'Injustice and Inequality', Fox News (Sep. 29, 2017), http://www.foxnews.com/us/2017/09/29/after-nfl-protests-seahawks-start-fund-to-fight-injustice-and-inequality.html.

[9] Id.

[10] Holder, Stephen, After National Anthem Protests, Indianapolis Colts Create 'Fund for Equality', Indianapolis Star, (Oct. 6, 2017), www.indystar.com/story/sports/nfl/colts/2017/10/06/after-national-anthem-protests-indianapolis-colts-create-fund-equality/741428001/.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.