Tactical Potency and Contested Meaning in the NFL Protests

Colloquium Series

Jan 26, 2018 - 03:00pm
Sociology Commons (SSCI 1061)


Join us for the first colloquium talk of the Spring 2018 semester.  Dr. Sharon Erickson Nepstad and graduate student, Alex MacLennan will present a talk, entitled, "Tactical Potency and Contested Meaning in the NFL Protests".  For more information, click here.

ABSTRACT: This talk addresses two key questions: 1) What factors make a tactic potent, sparking a strong reaction, while other tactics fall flat? and 2) How do protesters and their opponents contest and reframe the meaning of symbolic tactics to either thwart or sustain the pace of insurgency?  To address these questions, we examine the recent use of symbolic tactics in sports to protest political violence against African-Americans.  We conduct a comparative analysis of three cases to assess tactical potency: the 2012 NBA “Hoodies Up” protest, the 2014 St. Louis Rams NFL “Hand Up, Don’t Shoot” protest, and the 2016-2017 NFL “Take A Knee” protest.  We argue that four factors were particularly important: the capacity to reinterpret the tactic’s meaning; the setting for the action; the broader political context; and the engagement of high visibility opponents. Additionally, we use the method of process tracing to discern the various ways that NFL kneeling protesters and their opponents tried to shift the tactic's symbolic meaning.  We identify and illustrate several maneuvers that were used to thwart or revive the kneeling tactic. We argue that the NFL protests challenge traditional models of tactical interaction.  By contesting old meanings and attributing new symbolism, a movement can sustain insurgency without tactical innovation or the intervention of powerful third parties.