Northwestern University faculty are available to discuss the implications of NFL players’ protests during the national anthem and the league’s response.

The following statements provide perspective on the history of protests in athletics; branding complications that arise from a struggle to control the narrative; the impact of the protests on teams’ bottom lines; and future political implications.

Professor James Druckman has studied how race impacts opinions about athletes’ protests at a college level. He is a co-author of a working paper titled “Political Protesting, Race, and College Athletics: Why Diversity Among Coaches Matters,” which concludes that African-American coaches exhibit greater support for protests and are more likely to believe protests reflect concerns about issues, rather than attention-seeking behavior.

Druckman is the Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and a faculty fellow at the University’s Institute for Policy Research.

Quote from Professor Druckman:

“There is a long history of athletes using their platform to protest social issues. In the U.S., this goes back at least to the 1930s, if not farther. That said, the recent protests have become more politicized than most. It will be interesting to see how the public responds in terms of their opinions on the protests now that they are so politicized and whether it will have any effect on sports fans and viewership.”

Professor Druckman can be reached at 847-491-7450 and [email protected].

Professor Irving Rein, a professor of communication studies in Northwestern’s School of Communication, studies popular culture and crisis management. He is the author of books including “The Elusive Fan: Reinventing Sports in a Crowded Marketplace” and “The Sports Strategist: Developing Leaders for a High-Performance Industry.” Both books touch on topics of athletic teams’ engagement with their loyal fan bases through branding, messaging and strategy off the field.

Quote from Professor Rein:

"This is a classic example of the modern crisis problem. Who controls the narrative? It used to be obvious. Not anymore. In this case, it flips back and forth with players, coaches, owners, league administrators, TV networks and even commercial sponsors vying for a position and a favorable outcome.” 

Professor Rein can be reached at 847-491-5851 and [email protected].

Professor Alvin Tillery, Jr., associate professor of political science in the Weinberg College, specializes in American politics, political communication, political participation and race, ethnicity and politics. 

Quote from Professor Tillery:

“President Donald Trump’s decision to attack African-American athletes for kneeling during the national anthem at NFL and NBA games reveals several noteworthy things about his presidency and politics. First, it shows that he is the first president in the television age who demonstrates more comfort using the bully pulpit of his office to divide the nation into political segments on racial issues.

“Second, while president Trump’s comments have the effect of reinforcing the racial resentments of his base voters in places like Alabama, they are strikingly out of touch with the realities of the market place. The reason the NFL owners responded to his comments with such widespread condemnation is that they know through their own consumer surveys that the fan base of the NFL is diverse, and likely to become more diverse as we march toward becoming a majority-minority country. Their actions were undoubtedly motivated by a desire to protect future income from Trump’s reckless behavior. 

“Third, we saw in the response of players like LeBron James in the NBA and Michael Jenkins in the NFL that President Trump has inadvertently led some athletes with very keen political skills to enter the fray. These men are ripe for recruitment as donors to the Democratic Party and perhaps even as future candidates; in short, we may not know the full impact of this burst of activism within these sports leagues for a couple of decades when these players begin to transition out of their sports.

“Finally, it is very ironic that the Trump administration is arguing that African American athletes should not have the right to protest by kneeling -- which is a tradition derived from the protest movements led by the African American church in the 20th Century -- while it simultaneously supports efforts to expand the First Amendments protections to business owners who seek to violate contracts with LGBTQ Americans due to religious objections.

Professor Tillery can be reached at 574-514-5758 and [email protected].

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