This paper dives into Colin Kaepernick’s protest that began just a few months ago in the Bay Area. I explore the movement and the statistics behind what Kaepernick is protesting, how many athletes have gotten involved, and I also explore the effects the movement has had on education. There are two aspects I focus on which is the school environment that is being shifted by the protest and the conversation that is occurring in schools, which is the ultimate goal of the social movement. My paper is fueled by a Sports Reporter, Gibbs, tracking of the movement for she has a chronological timeline of every piece of the protest since it began and is also keeping it up to date. I have also brought in other sources like NPR’s visit to a classroom using the protest in curriculum and a sports analysis to dissect the kneeling of the national anthem and its impact known as The Kaepernick Effect.
The Kaepernick Effect and its Effects
on Social Justice and Education
August 26th was the start of it all during the pre-game against the Green Bay Packers. Colin Kaepernick, of the football team the San Francisco 49ers, decided to sit during the national anthem in protest of police killings and racial inequality occurring throughout the nation. The NFL says players are not required to stand for the anthem, yet Kaepernick’s choice still sparked large controversy and various mediums of reactions. A twitter poll was conducted after the pre-game on August 28th by Monday Morning Quarterback with 9,700 participants. The results showed that 51% of the poll participants believed Kaepernick had the right to sit at the pre-game, and 49% believed he did not. The close poll numbers show just how split the nation is and how this protest has sparked a large debate amongst the nation.
Kaepernick sat as the flag swayed on the field, as spectators booed and threatened him while their hands were placed on their hearts, as pissed football fans torched his jersey, as the majority media and some privileged celebrities argued against him, as he was painted as a disease and terrorist to “America the beautiful” … Then, just sixteen days after the quarterback’s protest began, Terrence Sterling was unjustly murdered by police. This inflated the debated and proved to Kaepernick’s critics that police brutality people of color endure is not made up, it is a serious problem that cannot be defeated until we take a stand, or take a knee and kneel. Kaepernick is helping shed light on the racism a majority have tried to sweep under their rugs like lint or stray dust ultimately transforming conversations, curriculum, and communities.
The History and Growth of the Movement
San Francisco 49ers quarterback, number seven, sat on the benches unnoticed while the national anthem boomed throughout the Levi Stadium. Gibbs (2016) says “he almost went unnoticed, because he was hidden by the Gatorade containers”. However, a reporter with a good eye noticed and asked him about it after the game during the press conference. That is when Kaepernick made his famous statement about the flag and his position. Kaepernick said he “refused to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people or people of color”. What Kaepernick has focused on thus far is the police brutality that has slithered around wreaking havoc on innocent colored bodies. He even wore socks with pigs in police hats during one game. Police brutality is a very controversial and split debate. There’s those who argue for black lives and colored lives, then there are those (who often aren’t oppressed) who argue for police lives; there is even a thing they created called “blue lives matter”, referring to police officers.
Many people also confuse his protest of the flag with protest of the country, yet that is not what he means. He is protesting the oppression the flag reeks of. Also, if one researches the meaning behind the national anthem, the songwriter wrote the song about the killing of colored people. It has just been butchered or looked over. Yet, people still are against his form of protest.
However, Kaepernick has proven he has a valid point and a genuine reason for his resistance to the American flag for the sake of saving black bodies. Since Kaepernick began his protest in August, 67 people have been killed by police officers. In the entire year of 2016, 719 people have been shot and killed by police. Colin Kaepernick is using his celebrity status and power to shine a flashlight on the dark and hidden police brutality endured by blacks, and to call for reform of the system and its racial injustices. Since Kaepernick began kneeling in August with several members from his team joining him, 61 other professional athletes have followed.
Gibbs (2016) found the following information:
At least 45 NFL players from 13 NFL teams have knelt, sat, or raised a fist…
The protests aren’t just confined to the NFL, either. Fourteen WNBA players from three teams protested in the playoffs. Star soccer player Megan Rapinoe took a knee during the anthem during a NWSL game, and later when representing the U.S. national team. Gold medal swimmer Anthony Ervin raised a fist as the anthem played during a meet in Brazil.
In fact, some NBA players have already told reporters they plan to join when basketball season begins. (p.2)
Goals and Obstructions in the Movement
The main purpose of protesting the national anthem is to create a discussion about these social justice issues America turns its back to. Carpenter (2016) from The Guardian says “Kaepernick has chosen the perfect forum for drawing attention to America’s problems with racial inequality. No major American professional league drapes itself in overwrought patriotism more than the NFL and no other league – the NBA aside – is as dominated by African American athletes.” (p.1).
The Plight of Patriotism
What Carpenter is saying is that by choosing to use the national anthem as a football player to protest is effective because it is such a patriotic sport. Fans burned his jersey for crying out loud because they were so terrified by his resistance and “un-American” behavior. Patriotism is also a problem sometimes though. It is always put first in the country and no other –isms are ever paid attention to. This protest is the prime example-blacks and other people of color are being murdered because people perceive their skin as a weapon and instead of a majority of America trying to fix this, they are all focused on the fact that he sat during the national anthem.
Lack of Whiteness in Protests
Or maybe it’s just what he sat for, because if it is a religious, cultural, or personal reason that does not follow a majority agenda then it is deemed inadmissible. It could also simply be who he is, or what he looks like. I remember when the Olympics was on, Gabby Douglas stood for the anthem and was dragged for not having her hand on her heart. But, I remember being angry when I saw a group of white girls (I cannot remember which sport) were talking and laughing during the anthem but that never made it onto the media or Twitter. That is because of racial injustice, which is what Kaepernick says. Kaepernick plans to protest until he sees change and feels the country portrays what they claim the flag represents. So far, there has been no change. That is partly because movements often need white representation for people to pay attention or take it seriously. It is phenomenal if a lot of minorities show up, but it cannot just be people of color. There needs to be people of power and privilege as well. Kaepernick is a person of power sort of, but he is a half-black football player. I am sure if Tim Tebow or Peyton Manning stood with him people would start to evaluate and reform society.
So far, not many white celebrities have stepped out of their privilege bubble to fight with Kaepernick and others. In fact, most celebrities that have spoken up have spoken against Kaepernick’s protest and declare “all lives matter”. They see the death and destruction going on, their privilege bubbles are clear, they just ignore the issues like some of the rest of the country. However, regardless of good or bad attention, Kaepernick has gained a lot of attention for his agenda. Because Kaepernick chose this setting for his movement, he has reached many people, for there are tons of football fans in the country. It has even reached the students, and the impact on these students has been significant.
The protest is not exclusive to just professional athletes either. The most prominent and recognized protests are the students involved in their schools across the country. According to Gibbs (2016), “protests during the anthem have occurred in at least 37 high schools, 17 colleges, and two youth leagues in 30 states across the country” (p.3). One close to home is the boys’ soccer team at Mission High School where every player regardless of color took a knee during the anthem. Aside from a San Francisco case, there are a plethora of students of all ages and backgrounds participating in this social movement across the country.
Struggles of Student Participation
Unfortunately, how Kaepernick has received death threats from angry Americans and lost endorsements with some brands, students across the country are also targets of backlash and race-fueled hatred. Although this movement is not directly injected into education and curriculum, it is assimilated by black students across the country, impacting their educational experiences and the school environments these students exist in. Participation has pitted students from different backgrounds and ethnicities against each other, and these heinous reactions are proving Kaepernick’s point that it is dangerous to be colored, or inferior in America, especially in white or middle-class driven schools. One high school football player at Palm Beach Lakes High School summarized the reactions beautifully, “take a knee, people riot, take a bullet, people quiet”. It is a peaceful protest, but the reactions have been everything but peaceful. People are raging over the protest but when the blood these students are kneeling for is being spilled, no one cares and fail to realize this is why people are protesting their precious anthem.
Even children as young as eleven have received death threats. Gibbs reported that a football team of children eleven and twelve known as the Beaumont Bulls in Texas joined the movement on September 10. However, as the community learned of their protest, the young football players began to receive death threats, and the youth league threatened to suspend their season. Texas is so afraid of reform for people of color that there are adults, and possibly children and teens too, sending death threats to little children. Yet, some of the kids are still kneeling during their games. Some students are even resisting getting involved in the anthem protest because of stuff like this, because of their fear of extreme reactions of their peers.
Prominence of Bringing the Protest into Schools
In addition to the negative reactions placed upon students in academic settings, what we must examine is the fact that this movement’s motif is awareness. And, that is what this protest has brought into society and into our schools. Schools are now discussing the purpose of this protest and its prominence for the country. Because of the kneeling, students in all grades are now debating about and focusing on social justice issues like police brutality, patriotism, racial inequality, and the meaning- and background-of the American flag. Although classroom discussions aren’t necessarily making a change, they are creating awareness and conversation. And, awareness is the first step in making a change.
Since Kaepernick’s protest began months ago he has been a hot topic around the country, coaches have encouraged the race and murder discussion in the locker rooms, and teachers have also used the protest in many classrooms. According to National Public Radio (2016), Dominic Altieri, a history teacher located here in San Francisco at Synergy School created an assignment based on Kaepernick’s protest with his eighth-grade students. Students were split into groups and had to research and discuss why people were mad that Kaepernick sat during the anthem. The students got into deep conversation about racism, patriotism, police violence, the country, and their own personal experiences and connections to the issues.
NPR supplied the following quote from Altieri:
These kids might seem kind of young for such a heavy conversation, but given the world we live in, it’s necessary. There’s sadness that we still have to deal with this, but there’s no sadness in someone waking up or someone realizing that things aren’t the way they should be.
The protest has fueled curriculum in the Bay area and in other places around the country. Students are diving into discussion about the topic and teachers are steering their curriculum towards it and tying it to history and other subjects.
Kaepernick’s protest has even summoned many students who may not be affected by the injustice to become a part of the movement in a positive manner. Some students who aren’t students of color even have joined in and deemed racial inequality and police brutality issues that are partly their duty to eradicate. Some have united with students of color to try to tackle the issues. This creates unity and provides a strength in numbers. His protest has impacted even those students who may not be affected by the injustice, which is crucial because students are now starting to understand the lives, experiences, and perspectives of those in the classroom who are different than them. It also further allows change to take place because like I said earlier, sometimes movements are more successful with the majority representation. One student at Clark Montessori High School, who Gibbs (2016) identified as a white soccer player began participating in the protest just ten days after it began.
Gibbs supplied the following from the student:
Black people, as a whole, on the socioeconomic scale, are lower than white people, and nothing is really being done about it. It can’t just be people of color. It has to be people of power and privilege who help to make change. I have a responsibility. (p.3).
These examples show that although the movement has pitted people against each other
and brought out the worst in some people, it has also done some marvelous things in schools. In schools the protest has birthed unity, understanding, duty, awareness, and discussion which in the long-term will reform schools and their students, curriculum, and environment.
This example is also a great sword that stabs through the barrier called “whiteness”, that Zeus Lenoardo talked about in his article “Race Ethnicity and Education”. in education. It is culturally relevant teaching, especially if one is a teacher in an urban school, for it relates to their identities. Students feel more personally connected to it and are more motivated to research, participate, and learn.
Conclusion and Future Study
The anthem protest almost went unnoticed because no one really saw Kaepernick sitting around the Gatorade containers, except for one NFL reporter who asked him about it after the pre-game. Then Colin answered why he sat, and there began the ignition of the protest. Colin Kaepernick has been threatened, shamed, and booed for kneeling during the national anthem, but he has not given up on his protest. He plans to protest until he sees changes in the country and its treatment of blacks and other people of color. There has been no change yet, in fact there’s been about seventy police murders since his protest began, but the movement is growing stronger. Over a hundred professional athletes are taking a stand with Kaepernick, and there are also a plethora of students protesting in their schools. The motif of the protest is to invoke awareness and spark a discussion on racial inequality and police brutality, and to ultimately make awareness the first step in changing the country’s system and its injustices.
Although there are barriers that produce mild obstruction, the movement still possess much room for growth. NBA players even plan to get involved once their season begins. I am keeping up to date with the timeline Gibbs has created to follow the movement on its journey and to see two months from now, two years from now how much this movement has grown and how much it has impacted society and our schools. With the rapid progress of the movement thus far, there is expected to be even more reform in schools and sports.