Chapter 4: Convincing Discourses

4.2.2 Stop the protest (synthesis)

Thomas Lundin

English 102, September 2020

In today’s era of professional athletics an athlete protesting is all so common. From kneeling during the national anthem, to raising a fist, to apparel that sends a message. Though it is not always common for athletes to speak out on issues and stances they believe in. This is due to an idea of neutrality. This is because there is a history of athlete’s careers ending due to a stance they took, though much of this neutrality and careers ending can be seen by black athletes protesting inequality. A counter ideology has been created that tries to limit athletes but especially black athletes from speaking up. This can see its’ ties back during desegregation where a black athlete was mainly there as muscle and played for the sake of the sport rather than becoming an individual that has their own thoughts and feelings.  

This counter ideology has evolved and cemented in society to stop athletes from expressing themselves. It can be seen in all aspects in sports from when athletes in the 60s and 70s were fighting for more say when it came to their careers. They were a public opinion that these athletes were just being disrespectful and should appreciate the opportunities that they have. It can also be seen in current day examples, when an athlete like LeBron James spoke about the current climate of the country in respect to race and was criticized and told that a person that dribbles a ball for a living doesn’t know anything about politics. This ideology that has been established has been set up to successfully stop the athlete from speaking up without acknowledging the problem they are talking about. This ideology can be described as a discourse. 

 In the article “What is Literacy” by James Gee, he defines discourse and how it is created. This ideology against the protest of professional athletes has many similarities to the definition that Gee gives for a discourse in literacy. These similarities can be seen with the main points that he considers makes a discourse. Those being common ideology, resistant to internal criticism, a defined position, concerned with certain subject and finally are related to the distribution of social power (Gee 19). The Evolution of athletes protesting can be described as a discourse because even though they discuss different issues the way the express these issues during competitions is similar with body movement and language.  The same can be said for the counter protester that don’t support these athletes using their voice and platform. These two discourses do not have the same power when it comes to the media. The counter ideology can control much of the narrative. In the article Gee talks about the use of dominant or powerful discourse which is a discourse that can control another in a way that is more powerful than the other discourse when it comes to their social power (Gee 23). This counter ideology in my opinion can be considered a dominant discourse because many of these people criticize the athlete rather than the actual cause they fight for so they shift the perspective and discussion on to the athlete and the league for allowing this kind of behavior.  

This dominant discourse that is created by the fans is due to the power structure that is set up in professional sports. They can control the actions of the team since they are paying to watch the games and are how the teams make money. There has been an ideology that athletes are in a sense muscle for entertainment purpose. Protesting on the national stage is not what the fans intended the athletes to participate in, so they created a discourse to control and shut down the protesting.  

In the article “Shut Up and Play: Black Athletes, Protest Politic, and Black Political Action” by Towler, Crawford and Bennett, they talk about how some athletes have been negatively affected by trying to stand up for what they believe in. The article directly references both Muhammad Ali and Colin Kaepernick. Ali would not go to Vietnam because he didn’t want to fight for a country that didn’t fight for him. As a result, his boxing license got denied. Kaepernick to a knee during the national anthem to protest the United State not standing for the African American community. He was blackballed from the NFL and still hasn’t played in a game since 2016 (115). Both events can be tied back to a discourse created by the fans and the leagues themselves. It truly shows an ideology that is formed that hinders the ability for African Americans in athletics to speak up for the problems that are faced in the community. The article conducted a survey to show the support of the protests in the NFL with kneeling during the national anthem. The survey asked if you think it is respectful, if it’s appropriate to protest during the national anthem and if they approve of the protest (113). The only problem with these questions was that only on question mentioned what the protesting was for and the reason the athletes were doing it. This article shows how the counter ideology has a way to control the narrative and instead of asking the opinion on the protest with the reason for why it is happening they question the act itself. This takes away from the reason the athlete is protesting because it focuses the spotlight on the athlete instead of the issue.  

In another article they talked about if an athlete had the right to kneel during the national anthem. The articled was “Should Athletes be Allowed to Protest during the National Anthem?” by Knoester, Ridpath and Allison. It talked about the power that is demonstrated in the discourse against protesting. By mention people like the president of the United States chiming in and saying that this protesting in athletics is a disgrace and calls out Kaepernick by name telling him to leave this country and calling him a son of a bitch (4). This article shows how this cultural discourse against an athlete protesting has engulfed the United States and has become a way to discredit and ruin the athletes who participate. The article later conducts survey to see the support of protesting within the United States in correlation to an athletes right and it was found that over a third of the people surveyed didn’t believe that the athletes should have a right to protest during the national anthem (23). Meaning about a third of the people surveyed want to hinder these athletes first amendment right. This shows the shear mass that this discourse has engulfed in the United States because even though most of the country still supports these protests the part that can’t have a drastic say. This is since people like the President have said they aren’t going to watch the NFL if the protests were to continue. Many other people with the same opinions would agree and if a third of the fans stopped watching the games the leagues would see a massive lose in revenue. Making these fans and discourse very powerful in the fact that they can control the entire discourse that athletes have built due to the pressure they can put on league owners.  

These are a way of an ideology created to end these types of protest since athletes have such large platforms. They can send messages more effectively than some elected officials. Due to this fact that could have been why the president mentioned something. Others may not support for their own opinions and views on the situation these athletes are protesting. Though with this type of disagreement and unsupportive efforts against athletes trying to protest. In the article “Does Protest “Distract” Athletes from Performing? Evidence from the National Anthem Demonstrations in the National Football League” by Hawkins, Linder, Hartmann and Cochran. It gives opinions on protesting and if athletes should be protesting. People against the protest has created many reasons for why they shouldn’t be allowed from it violates labor agreements, to it is expected that athletes stay quiet, to its being a distraction for the athletes and the fans (3).  This again gives the public a reason to not support the protest without taking a side on the issue they are protesting for. This sort of theories is a way of distracting the general public away from the ideas being conveyed by the athlete. It is a way to take from true problems that need fixing. This group of individuals continues to pressure leagues to punish protestor especially the black athletes who are protesting and that is again referenced in “Shut up and Play”. Where the article talks about how the idea of white power punishes these outspoken black athletes (115). This pull that is created by the discourse around ending protest in professional sport hurts everyone that speaks up but mostly damages the efforts made by athletes of color trying to say something about the issues in the country.  

This discourse around stopping athletes has become stronger throughout the years and can be seen throughout society today with the prevalence of social media.  Leagues are starting to back their athletes rather than the fans which can show the changing of the times and demonstrates a switch in control and power between these discourses. As of right now though the discourse that focuses on stopping athletes from using their voice is still in control and their attempts to stop these athletes can be seen everywhere from academic articles to the news. 


Works Cited 

Hawkins, Daniel N., et al. “Does Protest ‘Distract’ Athletes from Performing?: Evidence from the National Anthem Demonstrations in the National Football League.” 2020, doi:10.31235/  

Knoester, Chris, et al. “Should Athletes Be Allowed to Protest during the National Anthem?  An Analysis of Public Opinions among U.S. Adults.” 2020, doi:10.31235/ 

Towler, Christopher C., et al. “Shut Up and Play: Black Athletes, Protest Politics, and Black Political  Action.” Perspectives on Politics, vol. 18, no. 1, 2020, pp. 111–127., doi:10.1017/S1537592719002597.


Share This Book