Black athlete activism in the United States
Is the game changing again?
Scholars investigating black athlete activism and anti-racist protests seem to have unanimously identified two time periods: the so-called “golden age” of activism and an era of political apathy. The golden age of activism was characterised by vigorous outspokenness, with politically engaged athletes; however, these were treated as deviants and punished for their forthrightness. The golden age of athlete activism has ended, and the era that followed is characterised by political apathy and passiveness. Arguably, athletes have begun pursuing financial wealth rather than focusing on addressing prevailing social issues. New and scholarly un-investigated examples challenge the perception that political commitment of black athletes is a story from the past. The changing media landscape seems to be playing an important role in this. An objective for this thesis is to identify the particularities of today’s protests and, in doing so, try to understand some of the factors that may be behind the potential re-politicisation of black athletes; specifically, new media. It will do so by analysing a case study about NFL player Colin Kaepernick, who has initiated a national anthem protest against racial inequality in the United States. The following research question has been posed: How does Colin Kaepernick use the media for activism and what does this say about the opportunities for anti-racist protest among top athletes nowadays in the United States? To answer the research question, Kaepernick’s activism from August 2016 to June 2017 is used as a case study. Additionally, a simple quantitative content analysis and an in-depth qualitative content analysis are carried out on data from January 2017, which is retrieved from Kaepernick’s personal Twitter account. The simple quantitative content analysis is used to quantify and directly detect patterns in the data. The in-depth qualitative content analysis is applied to analyse the content and meaning of Kaepernick’s media activism. The coding frame for this part of the analysis is built on theories of mediatisation, gatekeeping, new racism and previous research among others. The results show that, on the field, Kaepernick’s protest resonates as a revival of athlete activism. The number of athletes who have joined him, or in other ways protest themselves, indicates that a need for anti-racist protests remains despite the challenging social environment of new racism. In his online activism, it is found that Kaepernick functions as a gatekeeper, where he gives voice to not only those who currently do not have a platform, but also those who did in the past, but are now for one reason or another silenced. He does so by frequently referencing and establishing links to black social movement leaders of the past. It is found that athlete activism carries features of being mediatised. Conclusively, the results show that a trend of political engagement is -once again- emerging in sports. However, it seems that political outspokenness in sport venues still comes with career-compromising consequences.
|Keywords||media, culture, society, Black athlete activism, Racial inequality, Political engagement, New racism, Mediatisation, Gatekeeping, Twitter, Colin Kaepernick|
|Thesis Advisor||I. Awad Cherit, J.M. Engelbert|
|Series||Media, Culture & Society|
I. Blum. (2017, October 9). Black athlete activism in the United States. Media, Culture & Society. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2105/39704