JMC Professor Examines PR Angle of Kaepernick Protests

Social media, news networks and sports fans were abuzz after NFL player Colin Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality and social injustice. What role did public relations play in all of this?  

Cheryl Ann Lambert, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Kent State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), focused on the public relations angle of Kaepernick’s protest while presenting the research paper titled, "Kap takes a knee: A media frame analysis of Colin Kaepernick's anthem protest" at the International Public Relations Research Conference. Danielle Sarver Coombs, Ph.D., associate dean in the College of Communication and Information was the lead author on the research paper, Lambert was the second author. Two doctoral students, David Cassilo and Zachary Humphries, also assisted and are the third and fourth authors, respectively.

“The media framed Kap as a troublemaker, and they framed the protest as a disruption of the natural order,” Lambert said. “This is huge when it comes to something like a team environment. It’s really hard to get past anything when you’re viewed as a troublemaker and disrupting things. It’s hard for people to hear what you’re trying to say.”

When media outlets presented Kaepernick's protest in a negative way, Lambert said, it was presented as though he didn’t know what it meant to be a patriot or a citizen, or that he didn’t know any better.

However, when it was presented in a positive way, the media framed Kaepernick as an athlete and activist, citing historical examples such as Muhammad Ali.

Lambert said it’s important to note that Kaepernick adjusted his initial approach to the protest. He began the protest taking a seat, and after getting feedback, decided that taking a knee would better convey his message.

Throughout Kaepernick's protest, he also held press conferences, built a coalition of sports activists, started a nonprofit and donated the money generated from the sale of his jerseys to low-income groups.

“It’s quite fascinating to note at the outset of this, he engaged in some very smart and very savvy public relations strategies.”

Lambert said the research team members are now moving forward toward seeking publication and see an opportunity for more in-depth research examining Kaepernick as an employee of the NFL and someone engaged in public relations tactics. 

POSTED: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 10:55am
UPDATED: Tuesday, March 28, 2017 - 10:57am
Keri Richmond, '17