Race talk, fandom, and the legacy of plantation culture in the NFL player protests


In August 2016, San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand during the United States’ national anthem. Throughout the National Football League’s 2016–2017 season, Kaepernick and other NFL players acting in solidarity maintained their refusal to stand for the national anthem. We explore NFL fans’ reactions to and feelings about the player protests inspired by Colin Kaepernick with interviews with 41 participants conducted between November 2017 and February 2018. We highlight how fans’ private talk about race is shaped by their strong feelings about race and social justice, particularly around their beliefs about the purpose and function of sports, feelings about players’ rights and responsibilities, and reaction to the NFL’s response to Kaepernick. Knowledge of and comfort discussing systemic racism was a key component in fans’ support for or opposition to the player protests. We argue that the way that NFL fans talk about the protests is shaped by the U.S. history of racial injustice, which is linked, both historically and in our interview participants’ statements, to issues of economics, ownership, and wealth inequality.

Publication Title

Journal of International and Intercultural Communication