Colin Kaepernick, the NFL free agent quarterback, surely did not imagine that his taking a knee for the American national anthem, before a 2016 pre-season game for the San Francisco 49ers, would still be breaking the Internet over a year later.
But as barbs fly from all political corners this week–including club owners, conservative bloggers, NBA stars and, of course, President Trump–it’s becoming clear that this is a protest whose popularity is yet to peak. The President has refused to budge on the topic, urging owners to sack kneeling players and for the league to implement laws compelling people to stand during the anthem.
It’s worth mentioning at this stage that Kaepernick’s move came as a response to police brutality against people of color in the United States, an issue that continues to dominate news on a daily basis.
White supremacy has risen to the foreground of US politics thanks, in part, to the President’s refusal to denounce “alt-right” protesters at events including one in Charlottesville, Virginia, that descended into violence leading to the death of activist Heather Heyer.
Regardless of one’s political orientation, #TakeAKnee has brought an unprecedented focus on opposition to white supremacy–one which, thanks to its use of a national sporting platform, has reached an audience that may have consumed its key tenets only via conservative outlets, or social media.
In this way it has confounded Trump, whose core base–white, conservative–loves the way his tweets, and media brands like the Daily Caller and Breitbart, sidestep the so-called mainstream media, which millions of Americans view as having a liberal-skewed bias.
Trump himself has cooed over the ability of Twitter to bypass such “fake news” institutions, who in part have struggled to break the wall that social media’s echo chambers have created.
#TakeAKnee has, therefore, turned that paradigm on its head. By combining a popular hashtag with a medium, sport, which transcends geographical and political divides, the protest has been able to reach a myriad more eyeballs than any newspaper or online campaign thus far.
That is not to say that #TakeAKnee is a guaranteed win for those who wish to highlight systemic racial bias in American society, during one of its biggest moments of national pride: Breitbart has enjoyed record traffic during its vehemently anti-protest reporting of the topic.
But, like the black power protest that shook the world at the 1968 Olympic Games, Kaepernick and co have shown how sport can be a powerful vehicle for social expression, and iconic protest imagery. Combined with the multiplier of hashtags and web rhetoric, #TakeAKnee might be the most powerful expression of the nexus between online and real-world protest.
Trump will hope his own gargantuan following fights back for some sort of victory. But as #TakeAKnee rolls past its 13th month, it seems we’re only at the beginning of something that will go on for some time yet.