In recent weeks, the San Francisco 49ers have garnered a massive amount of national media attention, but not from the result of phenomenal football play. The entire nation has set its eyes on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose method of protesting social injustices towards minorities has ignited a nationwide conflagration of both intense criticism and immense support.
Attempting to raise awareness for various acts of police violence and other inequities against minorities, Kaepernick took the action of initially sitting (now kneeling in recent games), during renditions of the national anthem, as opposed to standing, which is customary at sporting events and other instances where the anthem is performed.
Colin Kaepernick (7) and teammate Eric Reid (35) kneeling during singing of national anthem.
While seemingly every individual in America possesses an opinion on Kaepernick’s actions and the controversy surrounding it, the influences of containment culture have permeated into conversations over Kaepernick, most notably in the criticisms of non-supporters.
Montel Williams, writer for Sports Illustrated, recently published an article discussing his stance of Kaepernick’s protest, but also, as will be focused on here, the nature of the language critics have utilized to scrutinize Kaepernick’s actions and the strong hint of containment culture behind many of their statements (link to article: http://www.si.com/nfl/2016/09/30/montel-williams-colin-kaepernick-national-anthem-protest).
Williams introduces the containment language surrounding Kaepernick by describing how we should fear residing in a country where the public’s “sense of patriotism” leads them to “coerce or force these athletes to stand”. Dissecting this statement reveals several key elements of containment culture. Inherent in the protest critiques is a sector of the public lambasting Kaepernick for a lack of patriotism. Such displeasure over not displaying unity behind the flag and national anthem demonstrates a continuation of the binary sentiments that define containment. Separating from a common symbol of togetherness has stirred tremendous consternation among members of the nation, leading to either/or language from those like former Chicago Bears coach Mike Dikta, who claimed Kaepernick could “Get the hell out” if he did not like America. Williams also addresses that a serious dilemma exists when the public directs statements like Kaepernick “should look for another country to live in,”as such language feeds into the potential for infringement of civil liberties and rights.
Peaceful protest is an act protected by the first amendment, something generally encouraged in a nation where citizens take pride in advocating for social justice. Those against Kaepernick’s protesting appear to be content with a sacrificing of rights for the sake of unity against an a perceived “enemy”, another key aspect of containment. The various reasons behind Kaepernick’s protests are being ignored, as the significant piece of his acts, to critics, is the disbandment it has set forth throughout the NFL and even other levels of sports.
Protest and containment language in sports may appear to be an unlikely combination, but given the divisive nature of our modern culture, coupled with the presence of containment culture, similar situations may perhaps grow more commonplace in the future.