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The Kaepernick Effect

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The Kaepernick Effect

Taking a Knee, Changing the World

The New Press,

15 min read
6 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Professional football player Colin Kaepernick took a knee and a nation rose up.

Editorial Rating



  • Controversial
  • Eye Opening
  • Concrete Examples


National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick couldn’t have foreseen how much his decision to kneel during The Star Spangled Banner would upend the United States. The then-San Francisco 49er knelt down on one knee prior to the national anthem at a preseason game in 2016 to protest racism and police brutality. He paid a dear price as NFL team owners effectively banned him from playing. His singular gesture established the foundation of a sweeping movement that forced America to confront racism. Dave Zirin discusses the backlash and fallout when other Black athletes and coaches replicated Kaepernick's actions. Zirin’s outstanding work explores sports as a vehicle for social and political reform.


National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 decision to kneel in protest during the US national anthem prior to a game mobilized a movement.

In August 2016, the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers were preparing to play a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Four years earlier, Colin Kaepernick had taken the Niners close to a Super Bowl title. Now, he was the team’s backup quarterback.

The summer had been difficult for the United States. Fatal police shootings of two Black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, were captured on video, triggering nationwide outrage. Black Lives Matter (BLM) activists protested in the streets. When members of the US Women’s National Basketball Association protested on court, the Association levied fines against them.

The night of Kaepernick’s initial protest, he walked behind his teammates and sat on the bench as The Star-Spangled Banner began playing. The significance of his actions weren’t apparent, but NFL Network reporter Steve Wyche noticed and, after the game, he asked Kaepernick about his decision to sit out the anthem.

Wyche suspected...

About the Author

Dave Zirin, the first sports editor of The Nation and a columnist for The Progressive, hosts the “Edge of Sports” podcast. Utne magazine named him one of the “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World.” Zirin's other books include: People’s History of Sports in the United States: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play; Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love; and Jim Brown: Last Man Standing.

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