On sports fields across the United States, as fans stand during the national anthem, an increasing number of players are kneeling, or raising their fists. The silent protests against police brutality and racial injustice began when National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick remained seated during the traditional show of patriotism at the start of a game last month. Free speech is protected by the US Constitution, yet Kaepernick and others like him are being called anti-American.
The national anthem has been a tradition at US sporting events since the end of World War One. Since the 1920’s, the Defense Department has actively cultivated the relationship between sports and the military, promoting both as examples of American exceptionalism. In 2015 alone, the Pentagon provided at least $6.8 million in “paid patriotism” contracts to national football, baseball, hockey and soccer teams.
But as much as sports and the military are woven into the fabric of American patriotism, so is the fight for equal rights. In 1908, an Irish-American Olympian refused to dip the American flag in deference to British King Edward VII at the London opening ceremonies because the monarch refused to recognize Irish independence. At the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, American runners John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists on the podium in solidarity with the fight for civil rights back home.
On Wednesday, The Stream will discuss how the intermingling of sports and the military shape national identity.
In this episode of The Stream, we speak with:
Donte Stallworth @DonteStallworth
10 year NFL veteran, NFL analyst
Bishop E.W. Jackson @ewjacksonsr
Radio host, The Awakening
Sports historian and former NFL offensive lineman
Jay Van Bavel @jayvanbavel
Assistant professor of Social Psychology, New York University
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