As National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick takes his protests against racial inequality in the United States to wider television audiences, they continue to fuel the discussion about the state of race relations in America.
The San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback took his protest to what may have been the biggest audience yet during the widely watched Monday Night Football broadcast when he kneeled, rather than stood, as the national anthem was played before millions of television viewers.
Kaepernick makes millions of dollars annually to play professional football.
Risking his livelihood by adopting what many people believe is an unpatriotic position “is a testament to how serious he takes this notion of Black Lives Matter,” George Mason University Sport Manager Professor David Wiggins said in an interview with VOA, referring to a movement that was formed in 2012 after the fatal shooting of unarmed African American teenager.
“He’s quite troubled by what is taking place in American culture right now beyond the playing field,” Wiggins added.
Kaepernick, who is the son of a white mother and a black father, began protesting during the summer pre-season games. Some other players have followed Kaepernick’s lead to bring attention to what they believe is the continued unequal treatment of African Americans and other minorities.
Three players of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans raised their right fists in the air after the national anthem ended before Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings. Several other players around the league participated in similar protests on the NFL’s opening weekend.
New York University History Professor Jeffrey Sammons told VOA the athletes who engage in the protests are simply exercising their constitutional rights to exercise free speech.
“There’s been a hiatus, basically, on athletic activism probably since the 60’s and early 70’s,” Sammons said.
At the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City, for example, track and field medal winners John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their black gloved fists above their heads in protest of discriminatory acts against African Americans.
As to whether the actions of Kapernick and other athletic activists can help promote societal change, Wiggins is doubtful, but said they do “have an opportunity to make some of the problems more visible to the American public.”
Sammons is more optimistic. He believes the protests can help pressure the law enforcement agencies to improve their quality of policing in minority communities.
President Barack Obama, a constitutional lawyer has said Kaepernick is exercising his right to free speech and provoking conversation "around some topics that need to be talked about."