The Review Literature


In 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback sparked a national debate when he decided to protest the national anthem before NFL preseason match of what he termed the mistreatment of minorities and instances of police brutality. The subsequent days after this protest witnessed nationwide discussions concerning the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, national anthem in sports the race question in America. The actions Kaepernick influenced similar protests across the NFL with one that was staged by three members of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team (Reilly, 2016). Whereas the First Amendment of the United States of America constitution the right to protest or peaceably assemble in petitioning the government to redress their grievances, this protest received praises and criticisms in equal measure. It attracted the attention of the political leadership of the country with President Donald Trump taking to Twitter to express his displeasure on the same. This paper, therefore, seeks to evaluate whether Kaepernick was justified in "taking a knee" to protest the treatment of African Americans and Minorities.

Practically, the United States of America was founded on protests and demonstrations. Protesting is an effective tool used the world over by the citizenry to have their issues redressed by the authorities and to initiate changes that would have otherwise been impossible. The capacity of citizens to protest a government or its policies is one of the fundamental freedoms that citizens of any country can have. In the history of the United States, many historical figures have used protest or dissent as a way of creating change. Most notable civil rights crusaders such as Martin Luther King Jr organized protests of various forms to fight for inclusivity, equality and renounce racial segregation.


Americans value and respect their right to protest or peaceably assemble as provide in the First Amendment. However, the nature and scope of this provision have been subject to several court cases before the Supreme Court of America. These rights are only valued and respected if they are exercised in a manner and time that is agreeable. The root cause of the protest can be contestable but as long as it is done within the frameworks provided it will be acceptable and respected. Society is continually grappling with the question of how far the limits of this freedom can go; this explains a nationwide debate that followed Kaepernick's protest (Reilly, 2016).

Protesting has always been a fabric of American democracy, and it comes in various forms. However, the subject of contention has always been on the method of protest and who are protesting. Those who are opposed to protests have ever given a plethora of reasons why they think how the demonstration was done inappropriately. Criticisms emanate from all manner of ideas with some blaming it for inconveniences that come with it, such as effects on traffic or interference with the public. Others have also raised questions on the legality of the protests questioning the validity of permits and the choice of location.

In most cases, these criticisms are philosophically or politically inclined (Reilly, 2016). Whether people agree with them or disapprove of them depends on their perception of those protests. The case of Kaepernick proved controversial with different scholars and writers voicing their positions on it via various literature.


Literature Review


The protest by Collin Kaepernick, a professional NFL player in August 2016 when decided to kneel down during the national anthem citing mistreatment of the minorities and the police brutality against people of color, took America by storm. The debate that followed was not limited to the protest. The role of patriotism and nationalism in sports came under severe became the subject of the ensuing discussion. Kaepernick wanted to start a debate, something he succeeded in. However, the nature of the conversation that followed might not have been what he wanted. Various commentators, including writers and politicians, have expressed their opinions on the actions of Collin Kaepernick. They have expressed mixed reactions on whether the player was right in “taking a knee” during the national anthem in protest. This literature review seeks to analyze the positions of various scholars and writers concerning Kaepernick’s protests.

Kaepernick’s protests influenced other players, and the national anthem protest in the NFL became a movement (Sevi et al., 2019). The theoretical framework of this study examines the literature review that covers this movement. The debate that this protest generated and the question of whether it was appropriate can be understood in the context of framing. The literature on framing and frame analysis will be useful in understanding how this protest was framed and how that framing worked in this regard. Owing to the multifaced nature of this study, the review of the literature will cover the following sections.  First is an overview of the history of the National Football league regarding matters of racism and other social justice issues. Secondly, is the relationship between sports, politics, and patriotism. And finally, examine how the media coverage and framing of this protest and public reaction.

The Race Question in the NFL

The National Football League has experienced its fair share of complications and challenges in matters of race and social justice issues. During its formative years, NFL recruited very few African-Americans. However, the period after 1933 until the mid-1940s, no African- American participated in the NFL. Although prominent football club owners and other officials denied the existence of any racial ban, the absence of African-Americans in the league was a reflection of the race situation in the country as then (Beamon, 2016). During the 19430s and 1940s, the United States was grappling with severe issues of racism and social justice. Racial discrimination was normalized in schools, hospitals, hotels, and much other public and social places.  In 1946 an integration process began in league with the signing of Kenny Washington by Los Angeles Rams. By 1961 only one team in the league had not signed an Africa-American, which they were later compelled to do by Kennedy's administration. This signing brought an end to racial controversy in the league (Beamon, 2016)

Politics, Sports, and Nationalism

Understanding the importance of patriotism in football will explain why Kaepernick decided to protest a national anthem before the game. American politics have been entangled in major sports such as the National League. Some of these clubs are owned by politicians making politics part and parcel of the league (Crawley, 2017). The language in politics and sports is often related to both figuratively and in speech. The national anthem, which occasioned the protest is a part of sports and the games as well. It is deeply linked with football that it has become a tradition of the game, and many football fans cannot recognize the game without it. Singing the national anthem before any sports event in the United States has become a unifying factor in the country, especially after the 9/11 attack.  A study by Smith (2018) revealed that the fans view the rendition of the national anthem before the game as a sign of patriotism and not anything political.

National Football League and other professional sports leagues in the United States have inculcated the nationalistic and militaristic ideologies in the game to the extent that they take advantage of certain events to rally the fans towards specific national issues (Crawley, 2017). In 2004, Pat Tillman, an ex-NFL -turned army ranger player died in Afghanistan following a friendly fire. In showing his heroic sacrifices for the love of his nation, the NFL played themes of nationalism and patriotism throughout the league. The message in this theme was to show the citizens the value of serving your country. In celebrating Tillman as a hero, a lot of details were ignored, including his opposition to the war. By ignoring all those details, the NFL displayed nationalism as only limited to waving national flags, singing the national anthem, and supporting your country. They ignored the fact that protesting against any form of injustice is also a patriotic duty. They failed to recognize dissent as a valuable democratic duty. This analysis provides significant material in understanding the general mindset of the NFL and their fans regarding issues like a protest during the national anthem irrespective of how it is done (Smith 2018)

The National Football league, by its tradition, strongly opposes any form of dissent that Kaepernick and the others demonstrated. The American flag and national anthem are closely related to the military symbolically (Crawley, 2017). A protest during the national anthem can also be viewed as a protest against the military and the police, which was not the case, according to Kaepernick's admission. The national anthem in many league games has been used to create a forced sense of patriotism premised upon the love of the game and passion for competition and victory. The love of the game and the love of the country has become synonymous that acts like protesting during a national anthem are largely viewed as an egregious offense (Smith, 2018)

Media Coverage and Public Reaction to Police Brutality

The growing controversial and highly publicized shootings of weaponless African-American men by the police was the precursor of this protest. There was an increasing feeling among the African-American community that the police unfairly targeted them. The African-American youths felt they were being profiled, and their relationship with the police got worse. A study by Williams-Washington (2018), revealed the existence of distrust between the community and the police since they recognized police as people who are mandated to serve and protect them. Yet, now, they were becoming the biggest threat to their security. A similarly study among the youths of Chicago, the Whites, they revealed a similar lack of trust with the police (Goodwin, 2019). Intriguingly, they admitted that they would only trust them when they are in the neighborhood of the Hispanics, African- Americans and the poor. This is another revelation of how deeply rooted prejudice and profiling had become becoming leading to discrimination, as reflected by the police brutality on African-Americans.

These shootings were highly publicized by the media receiving national attention and generating sharp debate online through social media. The public reacted to it differently, and for days it formed the national agenda. But the most polarizing and controversial result of the public reaction was the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag on Twitter that trended for days and metamorphosed to a movement, Black Lives Matter Movement (Graber, 2019) It was polarizing because it took the direction of racial discrimination. These movements spontaneously sprung in states with African -American communities organizing demos and protests against police brutality (Goodwin, 2019). The African-Americans in the NFL took to social media to express their displeasure on these killings and police brutality.

The media coverage and framing primarily informed this public outrage by the public primarily African-American community of the use of excessive force by the police. According to the study, incidences involving police brutality caught on camera and shown to the public often alters the media coverage. Consequently, when the relationship between citizens and police is portrayed in this manner, the coverage of the event is changed, leaving the public to start making conclusions on half-truths.


In summary, analysis of whether Collin Kaepernick was justified in kneeling during the national anthem to protest mistreatment of the minority was lost in the media coverage and the politics that followed. This protest gave the cases of innocent killings by the police that was going on, regardless of how it was done (Sevi et al., 2019). The debate originating from this protest focusing on patriotism and sports overshadowed the reason for the staged protest. The media framed the story on the manner in which it was done in total disregard for the reasons that necessitated it. The news of the protest spread so fast with different NFL players and ex-players commenting on it. Another center of the media focus was on the comments made by various political leaders following the protest (Graber et al. 2019). Conservative politicians viewed it as being anti-militarily and termed disrespectful to both the stage and the military.

Additional coverage centered on Kaepernick himself as an individual. The media were interested in establishing the factors that motivated his actions, exploring his background, and the risks that would result from his actions as a citizen and a player. The media coverage focused on the manner of the protest and not the general issues of police brutality and mistreatment of the minority that the protest was supposed to serve (Graber, 2019)




Beamon, K. (2016). Against All Odds: African American Male Athletes’ Pursuit of Professional Sports Careers. Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?: Gender, Race, and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Black Men, 45.

Crawley, A. (2017). When Football and Politics Collide: An Analysis of the Responses to NFL Players Kneeling During the National Anthem.

Goodwin, D. (2019). To Be Black in America: Contemporary Experiences of African Americans.

Graber, S. M., Figueroa, E. J., & Vasudevan, K. (2019). Oh, Say, Can You Kneel: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Colin Kaepernick’s Racial Protest. Howard Journal of Communications, 1-17.


Reilly, K (2016). Colin Kaepernick Protests National Anthem Over Treatment of Minorities: 'There Are Bodies in the Street.'

Sevi, B., Altman, N., Ford, C. G., & Shook, N. J. (2019). To kneel or not to kneel: Right-wing authoritarianism predicts attitudes toward NFL kneeling protests. Current Psychology, 1-8.

Smith, M. (2018). Colin Kaepernick's protest might be unpatriotic. And that's just fine | Mychal Denzel Smith. Retrieved 27 November 2019, from

Williams‐Washington, K. N., & Mills, C. P. (2018). African American Historical Trauma: Creating an Inclusive Measure. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development46(4), 246-263.



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