The NFL Syllabus

Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem

To quote Paul Bove in the chapter on “Discourse” in Critical Terms for Literary Study, discourses “produce knowledge about humans and their society,” and an analysis of discourse aims to “describe the surface linkages between power, knowledge, institutions, intellectuals, the control of populations, and the modern state” as these intersect in systems of thought, and as represented in texts (55–56). What does the above passage mean? We come to an understanding of specific circumstances, peoples, events, and cultures through the media and through art. The narrative that we construct — and that we challenge — is the result of multiple, often contradictory, ways of reading events.

After Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in 2016, a group of a scholars/activists created the Charleston Syllabus as a way of compiling primary and secondary readings for educators and the general public in order to provide context and to shape the discourse surrounding the event. The syllabus has now become a book. Following the example of the Charleston Syllabus, the UVA Graduate Coalition put together a Charlottesville Syllabus.

For this project, students in English 463 constructed a syllabus about the NFL protest movement in order to analyze and contextualize the discourse generated by and about the event, which began when former San Francisco 49s quarterback Colin Kaepernick quietly refused to stand during the National Anthem in 2016. Each student was assigned a topic related to the event, tasked with researching that topic and finding two primary and two secondary sources on that topic. Each wrote a brief summation and analysis of that topic.

On August 28, 2016, Colin Kaepernick explained the reasons behind his protest as follows:

“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

“This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.”

“It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.”

“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”

A timeline of the NFL protest can be found here.

Table of Contents:

I. The History

  1. The National Anthem (Carra Hurley)
  2. The First Amendment to the Constitution (Kadie Birchfield)
  3. The Invented Tradition of Standing for the National Anthem (Emily Lamm)
  4. Colin Kaepernick (Kaitlyn Smith)
  5. The History of the NFL
  6. A Previous Controversy: The Redskins (Jack Betkowski)

II. The Discourse

  1. President Trump and the NFL Protests (Dillon Jeffrey)
  2. The Media’s Response to the NFL Protests (Steven Jernigan)
  3. Comedian and Late Night Host Responses to the NFL Protests (Garland Wells)
  4. The Musical Response to the NFL Protests (Brianna Forney)
  5. Sample Facebook and Twitter Responses to the NFL Protests (Ashley Oxendine)
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