National Anthem Protest Essay

  • Last Edited: December 19, 2018
National Anthem protest essay

This free essay discusses the National Anthem Protest which was first started by Colin Kaepernick in the NFL and has now spread to many players both in the NFL and other major sports.  We will provide you with example titles, related topics, an outline as well as all the major parts of an essay (thesis statement, essay hook, introduction, body, conclusion, works cited).  This can be used as a template/guideline/reference in helping you write your own paper.  If you need help writing, please review our “how to write an essay” tutorial.

In 2016, a football player with the NFL named Colin Kaepernick made the decision to stop standing for the National Anthem as a means of protesting the fact that unarmed African Americans are killed by police in disproportionate numbers, usually without any repercussions for the officers who engaged in the killings.  After hearing from a veteran that he found Kaepernick’s decision to sit on the bench to be disrespectful to the men and women who serve in the Armed Forces, Kaepernick invited that veteran to sit down with him and discuss the issue.  Together, the men determined that, rather than sit on the bench, Kaepernick would kneel on the sidelines.  The decision to kneel, which has a history in civil rights protests and can be seen in various forms and fashions in images captured during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, was intended to be a form of respectful protest.  However, immediately there was a backlash against Kaepernick. A free agent, he found himself without a job for the 2017-2018 season, even while many other athletes, in all level of sports, began to take up the same protest.  The issue became even more heated when President Trump went on television and called the protesters “sons of bitches” and called upon the NFL to fire any NFL player that refused to stand for the National Anthem.  The NFL teams responded in various ways, but most responded with a show of solidarity for their teammates.  The NFL organization later made it clear that its league-wide policy was not going to be to fire players who engaged in peaceful sideline protests.  Many people vowed to continue their boycott of the NFL.  However, Kaepernick remained unsigned for the season and filed a complaint against the NFL, alleging that the teams worked together to keep him unemployed.


Patriotism and Protest

False Patriotism: How Forced Nationalism Undermines the Constitution

Police Brutality and African Americans: How the NFL Protests Are Bringing Light to a Serious Social Issue

Does Protest Equal Disrespect?  Are Some Acts of Protest Inherently Disrespectful?

Related Topics

White Supremacist Rallies in Virginia- Many people have compared the general lack of outrage to white supremacists marching in Virginia with the seething anger and resentment over these protests.  You could compare and contrast the two issues to determine whether the comparisons are fair, or you could use that idea to bolster arguments in an essay about the kneeling controversy.

The First Amendment- The freedom of speech is one of the most misunderstood of our Constitutional Rights.  You could write an exploratory essay about the freedom of speech, examining whether a private employer, like the NFL, has the right to compel employees to engage in political speech that is not directly related to performing their job-related duties.  Is there a fundamental difference between requiring a singer to perform the National Anthem as part of a performance contract and requiring football players to stand for the National Anthem as part of their contract?

The History of Protest Among African American Athletes and Entertainers- This essay briefly touches on the topic, but African American athletes and entertainers have historically used their platform to help bring attention to social justice issues.  You could examine specific people, specific movements, historic trends, or backlash against them.

The Difference between Patriotism and Nationalism- At the heart of the Kaepernick controversy seems to be a very serious question about what types of behaviors constitute patriotic behavior and when patriotism turns into nationalism.  An essay could explore those topics and whether nationalism is actually dangerous to a county.


I.  Introduction

II.  Body

A.  What Kaepernick is protesting

B.  Actions by NFL players that have not resulted in boycotts

C.  The decision to take a knee.

III.  Conclusion


A bi-racial man who felt disconnected from his ethnic roots, a young Colin Kaepernick sought membership in Kappa Alpha Psi, a predominantly black fraternity, his senior year in college (Branch 2017).  Looking back, many of his friends and acquaintances see that decision as the beginning of his time as a social activist, because it helped Kaepernick become aware of many of the challenges facing African American men that he had not necessarily personally faced and that he did not know about because of his relatively privileged upbringing.  When police violence against African American males seemed to be growing to an almost daily occurrence, Kaepernick decided to protest social injustice, particularly the killing of unarmed black men by law enforcement agencies.  He started his protest by sitting on a bench on the sidelines while the National Anthem played, but after a discussion with a veteran who told him he found that behavior disrespectful, Kaepernick agreed to his suggestion that, instead of sitting during the anthem, Kaepernick take a knee.  However, this was not enough to satisfy disgruntled fans.  Kaepernick, a free agent, was not signed for the 2017-2018 football season.  In response, many African Americans began to boycott NFL games.  When other NFL players began to kneel for the anthem, other NFL fans called for a boycott of the NFL for not firing those players who protested.

For many Americans, the problem with players kneeling for the National Anthem is that they believe is disrespects the troops.  However, the protest never had anything to do with Kaepernick’s feelings about the military and still does not reflect feelings about the military.    The protest was specifically aimed at bringing attention to social injustice experienced by African Americans.  To understand the protest, one must first understand those issues.  Second, NFL fans have failed to boycott the NFL in the past despite players being convicted of crimes ranging from drug possession to murder, and continue to watch games despite a large number of domestic violence offenders being on the NFL’s active rosters.  Third, the decision to take a knee was made specifically to simultaneously show respect and protest.

Essay Hook

Despite his efforts to show respect while engaging in peaceful protest, Kaepernick quickly became the most controversial football player to ever play in the NFL.

Thesis Statement

The fact that Kaepernick’s protest is being portrayed as disrespectful, even though kneeling has long been considered a sign of respect, has much more to do with what he is protesting than how he is protesting.


What Kaepernick is Protesting

Although other people have tried to reframe Kaepernick’s protest and inject into it a scorn or derision for the troops, Kaepernick has always been very vocal about his reasons for protesting.  He felt a growing sense of discomfort about the social injustices in U.S. society, particularly about the fact that African Americans are disproportionately targets of police brutality and that police who kill or harm unarmed African Americans are rarely, if ever punished.  Moreover, though his own life was relatively privileged, he felt like he had a moral responsibility to use his platform to bring attention to this issue:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder” (Wyche 2016).

Kaepernick was not the first athlete to use his position to bring attention to social justice issues.  In fact, it is well-documented that professional sports have provided an opportunity for African Americans to succeed that has often outpaced the rest of society.  As a result, there is a tradition of African American athletes using their fame as a platform for social justice.  Muhammed Ali used his platform to speak about civil rights and was often reviled because he was an activist.  WNBA player Seimone Augustus wears “Black Lives Matter” t-shirts in warm-ups and post-game press conferences to bring attention to the Black Lives Matter movement.  John Carlos and Tommie Smith made international headlines with a 1968 Black Power salute on the medal stand at the Olympics.  In 1970, the Syracuse 8, a group of African American football players at Syracuse University used their position as players to combat discrimination at the school (Hatendi 2016).  NBA players including Derrick Rose and LeBron James have worn t-shirts with “I can’t breathe” on them to bring attention to the police killing of Eric Garner, a black man who was selling illegal cigarettes and who said “I can’t breathe” just before dying at the hands of police officers (Hatendi 2016).  Jim Brown was an NFL player who used his platform to establish the Black Economic Union (Hatendi 2016).   NY Knicks basketball player Carmelo Anthony actually led a Black Lives Matter protest in New York, and then used the ESPYs as an opportunity to call for black athletes to become politically active.  The entire Miami Heat team took a photo in hoodies to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin by a George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of the murder, despite the fact that the victim was an unarmed adolescent (Hatendi 2016).

While the above list is incomplete, it does demonstrate that African American athletes have a history of using their prominent social positions to bring attention to racial injustice in America.  Therefore, when he began the protest, he was continuing a tradition of using his position for good for the African American community.  This is important to keep in mind, because the reasons for his protest have been intentionally mischaracterized by people who oppose his right to protest.  He has been characterized as opposing the troops and all first responders, but neither position is supported by what he, himself, or other players joining him, have described as the reason for the protests.

Actions by NFL Players that Have Not Resulted in Boycotts

What is difficult for many people who support Kaepernick’s right to protest to understand is why those who are calling for NFL boycotts due to kneeling players have not protested the NFL in the past.  The NFL has a very sordid history of employing criminals.  This history goes beyond employing people who have been accused of crimes, and includes a history of the NFL hiring people after they have been convicted of violent offenses.  Michael Vick had a dog-fighting ring and tortured animals to death, but there were no mass boycotts of the NFL when he was rehired by a team after serving a prison sentence.  There are dozens of NFL players who have been accused of physical or sexual assault, including Ray Rice, who is on videotape beating his then-fiancé in an elevator so severely that she appears to lose consciousness, and Josh Brown, who admitted to domestic violence in several written documents.  However, there have been no mass boycotts of the NFL for hiring men who beat or rape women.

This has led many people to question the motives of the people calling for a boycott.  If they were truly concerned about respect for America and Americans, it seems clear that, even if they did not call for a boycott of dog killer Michael Vick, that certainly they would have called for boycotts when Josh Brown kept his job.  Although the domestic violence incident did result in Ray Rice losing his job in the NFL, it was not due to boycotts, and Rice is currently employed as a high school football coach.  To many people, having a known woman-beater involved in actively shaping and grooming young men seems far more dangerous than other grown men kneeling during the National Anthem.

As a result, many people believe that the reason people are boycotting has very little to do with the actions that the protesting players are taking, and everything to do with the motivations around the actions.  These African American athletes are speaking out against systemic racial injustices in the modern United States, and those conversations make people very uncomfortable.  Rather than addressing what the athletes are protesting, detractors have attempted to make the conversation about respecting the flag.  This approach begs the question, “is kneeling during the National Anthem disrespectful?”

The Decision to Take a Knee

To answer that question, all a person has to do is perform an internet search for people kneeling on a football field.  A search for athletes taking a knee pulls up images of athletes taking a knee when a fellow athlete is injured on the field.  In fact, in football, up through at least high-school level, athletes from the opposing team traditionally take a knee when a player is injured.  Taking a knee has a connotation in sports, particularly football, of respect and concern.

Furthermore, though Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee has been described as being disrespectful to people in the military, there is also a military tradition of taking a knee.  Military members traditionally take a knee at funerals of fallen comrades.  Veteran and former football player Nate Boyer had this in mind when he spoke with Kaepernick about his decision not to stand for the National Anthem and suggested that he take a knee, rather than sitting on the bench.  The gesture was one that was meant to simultaneously convey respect and concern.

However, one cannot talk about taking a knee without looking at how the symbolic gesture has been used by Civil Rights leaders throughout history.  Martin Luther King, Jr., is arguably the country’s most famous Civil Rights leader.  He is known for taking a knee and joining his fellow Civil Rights workers in prayer before being jailed in Selma.  Though the lens of time has made most Americans admire King as a hero, the reality was that, during his own time period, King was the subject of a significant amount of scorn and derision.  His protests, like Kaepernick’s, were characterized as disruptive, attention-seeking, and unnecessary by people who were comfortable with the status quo.


Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the National Anthem sparked a social justice movement in the NFL.  Though Kaepernick’s protest has received the most press, this movement exists in almost all professional sports, with players using their platforms to bring attention to racism.  It comes as no surprise that Kaepernick’s actions are being portrayed, by some, as a protest against the troops or against America.  However, the reality is that as long as America continues to treat people differently based on skin color, then it has failed to fulfill the promises in the Constitution. Perhaps the question people should be asking is not “why did Colin take a knee?” but “why didn’t more people take a knee?”

Works Cited

Branch, John.  “The Awakening of Colin Kaepernick.”  The New York Times, 7 September 2017 Accessed 23 October 2017.

Hatendi, Natasha.  “Sports & Politics: 27 Woke Athletes Who’ve Taken a Stand.” Essence, 7 September 2016. Accessed 23 October 2017.

Wyche, Steve.  “Colin Kaepernick Explains Why He Sat During National Anthem.”, 27 August 2016. Accessed 27 August 2016.

In Closing

Hopefully this National Anthem Protest Controversy essay has helped you understand the roots of the dispute between Trump and the NFL.  The protest, which has been mischaracterized in the press, was not to vilify the troops, but to bring attention to social justice issues impacting the African American community.  Because this story is on-going, there may be additional developments that you need to consider when writing your own essay.  If you need any assistance in that process, we are happy to help you.

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