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'Protest and Patriotism' Panel at Idaho Black History Museum Talks Kaepernick, NFL, Community Action


- Around 50 people filled the Idaho Black History Museum on Oct. 11 for the Protest and Patriotism discussion. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Around 50 people filled the Idaho Black History Museum on Oct. 11 for the Protest and Patriotism discussion.
When Colin Kaepernick, then-quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began to kneel when the National Anthem was played at football games, it was his way of protesting police brutality against people of color. Kaepernick is now a free agent, but scores of other National Football League players have followed his lead, kneeling when the National Anthem is played.

"It was very clear to me it was against police brutality," said Boise State University Associate Professor of Political Science Justin Vaughn, speaking at "Protest and Patriotism," a panel discussion at the Idaho Black History Museum Tuesday night. "It seems to have become more general resistance, and that broader interpretation has led to a broad knee-jerk reaction to it from other quarters of society."

Other panelists included University of Idaho College of Law Associate Professor Shaakirrah Sanders and Sage International School teacher Melissa Webster.

They had gathered to talk about why Kaepernick's protest had garnered vitriolic criticism from the public, the media and, in particular, President Donald Trump, who unleashed his frustrations about players taking a knee in a tweet storm, reigniting the controversy. Vice President Mike Pence left an Indianapolis Colts/San Francisco 49ers game Oct. 8 when players kneeled—at enormous cost to taxpayers.

Webster said a primary reason why there's so much umbrage over a demonstration against police brutality while white nationalists march openly in the streets with the Confederate battle flag in Charlottesville, Virginia, is race.

"What's so different about this kind of protest?" she asked. "One of the big differences is the skin color of people engaged in the protest."

Economic factors have also affected public and official response. The Hollywood Reporter  wrote that ratings for Sunday Night Football Sept. 24—just after the president's tweet storm—had dropped 11 percent from the same weekend in 2016.

The business side of the protests, Sanders said, is often overlooked. As the president marshals his core supporters, team owners and managers have been pressured to respond. Players have been trapped in the middle, caught between their identities as professional athletes and employees of the NFL, subject to its rules and policies. Some, she said, are "no longer content to be contractors."

"When people complain about their economic conditions, that's a threat to the power structure," Sanders told the audience.

The United States began as a slave-holding country, and extricating the country from its legacy of white supremacy will not be easy or simple—"We may never solve any of our '-isms,'" Sanders said—but when an audience member asked about taking action, Sanders recalled how cell phone footage of police brutality against people of color has made that problem more immediate.

"Keep the cameras on. You've renewed the First Amendment in ways you don't realize," she said.