How the 49ers protests emulate civil rights figures, prompt discourse



San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick scrambles against the San Diego Chargers in the second quarter during a preseason game on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

By Tyra Wooten

The protest movement against racial injustice and police brutality initiated by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick gained additional supporters Sunday afternoon during the team’s latest pre-game ceremony.

Four more 49ers took a seat during the national anthem in North Carolina in Week 2, as athletes across the country have put the pre-game ceremony into the spotlight since Kaepernick announced he would not stand for a country that oppresses people of color. The sit-down demonstrations have sparked discourse of social reform and prompted others to question whether the national anthem and American flag represent all Americans.

While Kaepernick’s tactics have dominated news headlines as of late, the measures are nothing new. 


During the 1968 Summer Olympics, gold and bronze track and field medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos stood with their heads bowed and fists raised as the American National Anthem played during the victory ceremony representing the civil rights movement. The iconic moment fortified a symbol of the struggle for civil rights in American history.

Tiffany Player, an SIU professor in Civil War History, said the act of protesting is a part of living in America.

“It’s a form of freedom of speech,” Player said of famous athletes who have brought the issue of social injustice to the forefront of conversation. “It’s an expression of their American identity.”

She added that demonstrations of so-called civil disobedience have been used throughout history by people of color to question America’s loyalty to them.

“Malcolm X and the Black Panthers criticized the traditional government and the symbols of the flag because it wasn’t a representative of the experience of African Americans,” Player said. 

Player said “The Star-Spangled Banner” — written in 1814 by Francis Scott Key — wasn’t supposed to include women, Native Americans or African Americans. African Americans weren’t considered people, Native Americans were being stripped of their land and women weren’t able to vote.

Key was imprisoned in Maryland when he wrote and used the poem for whites who were vulnerable and saw hope when a glimpse of the flag appeared from the ceils. But when the song was written, Player said, it only pertained to white male citizens.


“Before the war, white, male citizens weren’t united because of disputes over the new colonies,” Player said. “And after having a common enemy,  which was Great Britain, it made white, male citizens unite.”

Meanwhile, while some choose not to participate in the protest, they still understand it and remain patriotic.

Jefferson Vea, an SIU football player from Orlando, Fla., whose parents are from Haiti, said he wouldn’t participate in the protest, but he understands the message.

“I feel like it’s a respect thing,” Vea said. “Even though my parents aren’t from America, I still say it.”

Staff writer Tyra Wooten can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @twootenDE.

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