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(Re)Scripting the Black-Activist-Athlete: Remembering the Racialized Politics of Sport in the NFL’s Protests during the National Anthem

Ashley Danielle Garcia, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


In the fall of 2016, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the pre-game singing of the National Anthem, sparking a movement. Although Kaepernick stated he was protesting to draw attention to racialized violence committed against Black Americans, he and the other Black-activist-athletes were accused by President Trump and his supporters of disrespecting the military, veterans, and the American flag. This dissertation views Kaepernick, and the backlash rhetoric against his protests, as a symptom of a larger social phenomenon: the rise of racism and White nationalism during the Trump presidency. As such, the relationships between sport, politics, race, and identity are interrogated in the context of the Black-activist-athlete. Four conceptual hooks drive the interrogation of these relationships: (1) the historic violence against the Black masculine body; (2) patriotism; (3) race card play; and (4) the commodification of the Black masculine body. Exploring these hooks in the analysis chapters, which focus on the 2016, 2017, and 2018 National Football League (NFL) seasons, requires situating Kaepernick’s protests in two contexts: the lineage of the Black-activist-athlete in American sport and the contemporary legal lynchings that sparked the most recent iteration of the Black Freedom Struggle, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. In analyzing Kaepernick’s protests, and the backlash against them, this dissertation makes three contributions: First, I fuse iconic photographs and image events to argue that images of Kaepernick protesting constitute an iconic image event, which has important epideictic functions. Second, a close reading of President Trump’s 2017 remarks calling for the Black-activist-athletes of the NFL to be fired unveils how he plays the race card by using implicit, coded racial appeals––patriotism is used as a code for race. Lastly, two brands of patriotism are contrasted––nationalistic and critical––to argue that Nike’s stance, portrayed in the 2018 “Dream Crazy” ad, repositions Kaepernick from a disloyal, disrespectful Other in the eyes of nationalistic patriots to a Black critical patriot.

Subject Area

Communication|Gender studies|Rhetoric

Recommended Citation

Garcia, Ashley Danielle, "(Re)Scripting the Black-Activist-Athlete: Remembering the Racialized Politics of Sport in the NFL’s Protests during the National Anthem" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI29167774.