Land of the free and home of the brave? The media framing of Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 National Anthem protest

Doehler, Steph (2021). Land of the free and home of the brave? The media framing of Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 National Anthem protest. In: ECREA 2021 - Media, Sport, and Diversity online seminar, 5-6 Nov 2021, Aarhus University.


Colin Kaepernick, the bi-racial quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, opted to protest during the American National Anthem throughout the duration of the 2016 NFL season. The aim was to create a dialogue into racial injustice and police brutality throughout the United States. What initially began with Kaepernick remaining seated during the anthem soon progressed to taking the knee instead. Kaepernick’s actions provoked immediate criticism from both the media and football fans across the country, with attention being paid on his alleged unpatriotic and anti-military stance. His actions were discussed widely with President Obama, then Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, several teammates, and other NFL players and coaches voicing their interpretation of the matter. After a season of protesting Kaepernick opted out of his contract and became a free agent in March 2017. Following rumours that Kaepernick had been blackballed by the NFL due to his political statements, he filed a grievance against the league, accusing the club’s owners of collusion to keep him out of the sport. In February 2019 it was announced that Kaepernick had reached a confidential agreement with the NFL to withdraw the complaint but has yet to play professionally again.

Using the concept of media framing, this paper analyses the newspaper coverage of Kaepernick’s protest from three American news websites: The San Francisco Chronicle was used to offer a localised analysis, covering the geographical location in which Kaepernick played, The New York Times and The Washington Post were identified as being ‘newspapers of record’ for having an editorial process that places a premium on accurate reporting and a national viewpoint. Within the analysis we identify four emerging key frames derived from media coverage which can be scrutinised and understood using the theoretical framework of the protest paradigm. We have also taken the innovative approach here analysing 2020 coverage of Kaepernick in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers, which sparked worldwide anti-racism protests. This allowed us to gain insight into the hindsight of reporters.

This paper will illustrate that sports reporters are habitually ill-equipped to examine issues of race and as such several reporters circumnavigated this deficiency by adopting a more aggressive approach of criticising the protester’s action and concentrating on more extraneous topics.

We build on the understanding of media framing towards an individual undertaking a protest and the consequences they face in doing so.

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