2.4.19 Kaepernick Still a Hot Topic

A recent article in The Undefeatedexamines the complicated public persona of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick hasn’t played for an NFL team since the 2016 season, when he began to kneel during the pregame national anthem. During this time, he has remained almost entirely silent. In the article, which recaps the Kaepernick saga, Michael A. Fletcher writes, “He does no interviews and has made just a handful of speeches over the past two years. He has millions of social media followers, but his activity on those platforms is limited mainly to reposting the thoughts of his supporters. His closest friends rarely give interviews, and even when they do, they won’t discuss Kaepernick’s plans.” According to PRRI data, 50 percent of Americans believe that athletes should be required to stand for the playing of the national anthem before sporting events, while roughly as many (47 percent) disagree. 
In a recent interview with UConn Today, PRRI Public Fellow Ruth Braunstein, a professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, discussed the psychology of social protest and outlined various arguments about why one should or should not protest. “When the response to that protest is not to engage on the actual issue but to instead talk about whether they protested appropriately, it’s a way of changing the subject. It means that instead of spending the 15 minutes you get with a journalist talking about your issue – as in the NFL protest on racial injustice – you’re spending that time talking about whether the protest itself, the form they used to talk about that issue, is appropriate,”Braunstein explains. “It is a powerful strategy that can be used by both opponents and by people in power who might feel threatened, to change the subject, take the air out of a protest situation, and make it so nobody is paying attention to the reason you’re actually out there and instead think about whether you were acting appropriately.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has maintained that Kaepernick’s social justice focus hasn’t kept him off the field. Kaepernick appears to disagree and has filed an official grievance against the league, alleging collusion to keep him from playing. “I think if a team decides that Colin Kaepernick, or any other player, can help their team win, that’s what they’ll do,” Goodell recently told reporters. “They want to win, and they make those decisions individually, to the best interest of their club.” In response, Kaepernick’s lawyer, Mark Geragos, took a crack at Goodell and some of the players who were on the field in 2018: “Anybody who believes that will believe that Mark Sanchez was a better choice, or some of the other, how shall I put it delicately, people that were well past their prime that were signed this year.” 
According to PRRI’s most recent Kaepernick-related data, the majority of Americans know why the anthem protests began in the first place. In 2018, Americans were largely aware that athletes began kneeling during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest police violence against African Americans: Sixty-five percent of the public identified this as the original motivation for the protests. Only 13 percent said these protests were in opposition to the election of President Trump, while eight percent said they were in response to negative treatment of players by NFL management.

For more data surrounding Kaepernick, check out PRRI’s September analysis, “Colin Kaepernick and How Americans Feel About National Anthem Protests.”