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Political moments in sports

Colin Kaepernick appears on a Nike ad that reads “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” after taking a knee for the pre-game national anthem to show his stance on racial injustice in the U.S in 2016. Photo courtesy of Brechtbug/openverse

Sports are much bigger than the game. Whether athletes use their platform to speak out about current issues or needing to diversify personnel in the team’s office or the league, sports have begun to shed light on important topics the world faces today. 

Back in 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to send a message of social injustice and police brutality that was happening at the time and has continued to this day. Kaepernick began his silent protest during a preseason game against the Houston Texans Aug. 14, where he sat on the bench out of uniform. In a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers Aug. 26, Kaepernick sat on the bench in uniform, where his protest began to be noticed. 

Kaepernick began to take a knee Sept. 1 against the then San Diego Chargers with his former teammate, safety Eric Reid. Kaepernick continued his protest for the entire 2016 season, where he received backlash from fans and was turned away a few times from the National Football League after a few workouts with various teams.  

Despite not playing in the National Football League, Kaepernick’s protest continued to take over the NFL. Many teams or players began to take a knee, holding a fist up or staying in the locker rooms during the national anthem.  


Colin Kaepernick, Former NFL quarterback 

According to The Washington Post, in 2017, the NFL and the players coalition agreed to provide players with funds for their community activism endeavors. In 2017, the NFL began the “Inspire Change” campaign, but it only began to gain traction in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. 

Before the “Inspire Change” campaign came about, the NFL implemented the Rooney Rule, named after former Steelers owner Dan Rooney, to increase the number of Black coaches interviewed for coaching jobs. However, according to a Sept. 21 Washington Post report, there has not been a a significant increase in Black coaches despite the rule.   

Former Miami Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores filed a lawsuit against the NFL for discrimination against him and other black coaches in the hiring process.  

The Rooney Rule has allowed for more people of color to be interviewed, but many coaches explain that their interviews were just to say that the teams had interviewed a minority candidate. 

Former Los Angeles Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn said that he was offered more interviews, but he refused to meet with team organizations who had yet to interview a minority candidate because he did not want to be their token interview.


Anthony Lynn, Former NFL Head Coach

According to The Washington Post, in 1989 Art Shell was the first Black head coach in the NFL and after he was hired, there was a rise in Black coaches. Unfortunately, the number began to decline, in recent years there have only been 24 Black coaches. 

To this day, Black coaches continue to be denied top jobs in the NFL and are twice as likely to be fired after leading a team to a winning season. 

Women working in male-dominated sports is something that is still unheard of, until Sarah Thomas broke ground and became the first NFL female referee

Thomas is currently entering her eighth season, as more women begin to take jobs as assistant coaches, referees and president for team organizations in various leagues.  

In the NFL, there is currently only three female referees for the 2022-2023 season, but the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have picked the first all-female officials for the Men’s World Cup.  

According to the New York Times, FIFA selected Stéphanie Frappart, Salima Mukansanga and Yoshimi Yamashita to officiate the event along with three more women as assistant referees.  

There have been several women making a name for themselves in the NFL, such as Jennifer King who became the first Black female assistant coach. 

During the 2020 Super Bowl, Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar became the first women to win a Super Bowl. Another important moment came about July 7,  when the Las Vegas Raiders hired Sandra Douglass Morgan as the team president, making her the first Black female team president in the NFL. 


Maral Javadifar, Tampa Bay Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach

Moments such as Kaepernick taking a knee, the lack of Black coaches, and women working in a male-dominated world are altering moments in sports that shine a light on various important topics the world faces today. 

Katrina Villarreal is a staff reporter and may be reached at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Katrina Villarreal
Katrina Villarreal, Multimedia Editor
Katrina Villarreal is senior multimedia journalism major with a minor in theatre at UTEP. She is going into her second year at The Prospector and is currently the Multimedia Editor. Once she graduates, she plans on becoming a sideline reporter for the NFL or ESPN.  
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Political moments in sports