From Raising a Fist in 1968 to Taking a Knee in 2016:  How US Media Discourses Frame African-American Athletes’ Calls for Racial Justice

During the 2016 NFL season, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, began silently protesting racial injustice and police brutality during pregame performances of the national anthem. The recent NFL player-led protests and 200-meter sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos’s demonstrations in 1968 serve as flashpoints for understanding the intertwined, evolving, and messy relationships between racism, nationalism, and imperialism in the US context. This paper explores the systems of power that remain embedded within media approaches to these peaceful, anthem-related acts of resistance. Through the theoretical lens of media framing, this paper explores mainstream US newspaper reportage of these landmark protests, including ongoing analysis of Carlos and Smith’s legacy since 1968. Using critical discourse analysis, this examination situates major US print media reactions to these demonstrations in relation to the wider sociopolitical currents and contexts surrounding them, in which both lines of continuity and points of departure emerge.


Shannon O’Sullivan is an assistant professor of communication studies at Green Mountain College. She earned her doctorate in media studies from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2017. During her time at CU, she also completed graduate certificates in comparative ethnic studies and women and gender studies. She received her MA in American studies from the University at Buffalo in 2011, and her BA in journalism with a dual concentration in history from Buffalo State College in 2009. Her interdisciplinary research interests focus on investigating the relationships between media, public policies, and the reproduction and resistance of social injustices.