- Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st-Century America ed. by Eric Burin
At least for those interested in the subject matter, anyone who has attended a conference devoted to race, sports, and popular culture has probably already witnessed many half-hearted attempts to discuss the NFL protests during the national anthem. They usually follow a familiar trajectory, from Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics to Colin Kaepernick, via Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf during the 1995–96 NBA season. A new wave of academic books, including Margaret Haerens's The NFL National Anthem Protests (2018) and Stephen D. Perry's collection Pro Football and the Proliferation of Protest (2019), have sought to bring more academic rigor to the discussion for sports history scholars.
Into the breach enters Eric Burin's far more accessible Protesting on Bended Knee: Race, Dissent, and Patriotism in 21st-Century America, a collection of twenty-nine essays that are void of jargon and will be consumed by most readers as a free e-book (a PDF is currently available on the press website). Burin's introductory essay (over eighty pages, including its voluminous notes with over three hundred links) extensively covers the controversy over Kaepernick and other NFL players protesting racism in the Age of Trump and Black Lives Matter. Eight of the chapters were previously published on the academic blogs The Conversation and Black Perspectives (associated with the African American Intellectual History Society) and six from other print and online sources, leaving fifteen of the articles original to this volume. The authors come from a variety of backgrounds, from academics to national anthem singer Jon Foreman (of the Christian rock band Switchfoot), from retired high school football coaches and NFL players to military veterans. This diversity of opinions and backgrounds of its thirty authors brings a variety of perspectives on this issue. Of those previously published, some first appeared in 2016, while others were published or posted in 2017, when the national conversation over the issue reached its fever pitch in the wake of President Trump's denigrating protesting NFL players as "son[s] of bitch[es]" and the number of players actively protesting was at its peak.
As expected, most of the essays are supportive of Kaepernick and the other protesting NFL players, but a few of the essays toward the end of the volume suggest that such tactics are inappropriate, at least within the high-school arena or in the current political climate. In "If You're Explaining, You're Losing: Questioning Kaepernick's Tactics, Not Cause," [End Page 164] Mac Schneider and David Butler contend, "Our concern during this polarized time is that taking a knee during the national anthem will push away as many—or more—Americans as it draws to the important cause of equality and fairness under the law" (244). Overall, though, such reactionary polemics are largely absent from the volume.
Of course, racism reared its ugly head in containing black (athletic) bodies decades before Muhammad Ali, Tommie Smith, and John Carlos; J. Corey Williams looks back to heavyweight champion Jack Johnson a century ago in his essay, "The Oppressive Seeds of the Colin Kaepernick Backlash." This reader would have appreciated more essays in this vein, and readers of this journal should be advised that, while a handful of essays do address the sociohistorical contexts that led to Kaepernick's protest, most would have benefited with more historical context of previous political activism within sports. Furthermore, international parallels are absent, save for Andrew N. Wegmann's chapter on Algerian protests during a friendly French–Algerian soccer match in 2001. Consequently, reading this volume alongside those mentioned in the first paragraph, which provide much more of those contexts absent here, may work best in the classroom. Those wanting to read the book in its printed form should also be advised of the hyperlinks printed throughout. Still, Protesting on Bended Knee is recommended for its...