Future-ish Case Study | He Just Did It: Colin Kaepernick’s Act of Respectful Protest Reignites Athlete Activism

Future-ish Case Study | 24-05

Author | Sean G. Schmidt

Publication Information | Future-ish, 2024. Published in Schmidt, S. G. (2024). Future-ish: case studies and context for exploring the science, design, and culture shaping the future (2nd ed.). Innovative Ink Publishing.


Athletes have played an important role in activism and social justice for many years, often with great controversy. Muhammad Ali and Billie Jean King are two such athletes who, by taking a public stand on an issue, sparked change in their particular sports and in society more broadly. When former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the singing of the United States’ national anthem in 2016, it triggered one of the most consequential shifts in sports in the early 21st century. Kaepernick’s decision was intended to be a respectful protest against racial injustice and police brutality aimed at African Americans in recent contemporaneous events, but it sparked much more than that. His decision at that moment and subsequent activism throughout the sports industry created a completely new playing field for athlete activism and served as an example to other amateur and professional athletes on their agency in creating social change.

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