Authors: Daniel Kane and Dr. Bonnie Tiell

Affiliations: United States Sports Academy

Corresponding Author:
Daniel Kane

Daniel Kane is a doctoral student at the United States Sports Academy pursuing his degree in sports management. He is also an Adjunct Lecturer at CUNY Kingsborough Community College and CUNY School of Professional Studies.

Contributing Author:
Dr. Bonnie Tiell
2696 S. Twp Rd 1195
Tiffin, OH 44883

Dr. Bonnie Tiell is a Professor of Management at Tiffin University and member of the national faculty for the United States Sports Academy (2014 Alumna of the Year). She is also founder of the Olympic Academic Experience (Athens 2004; Beijing 2008; London 2012; Rio 2016) and co-founder of the Women’s Leadership Symposium in Intercollegiate Athletics. In 2016 she was recognized as the Woman of the Year in Sports for the Cleveland Chapter of Women in Sports and Events (WISE).

Colin Kaepernick, a player in the National Football League (NFL), created a national debate when refusing to stand during the national anthem throughout the 2016 season. Kaepernick’s intentions were to bring attention to issues of social injustice, however, many believed that his actions were disrespectful to the United States of America. This article builds a theoretical framework using three sub-theories and nine principles of normative ethics to explore perceptions of Kaepernick’s silent protest as being right or wrong.

Keywords: Colin Kaepernick, normative ethics, virtue ethics, consequentialism, deontology

Application of Normative Ethics to Explain Colin Kaepernick’s Silent Protest in the NFL
On August 14th and 20th 2016, the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick sat down during the National Football League’s (NFL) national anthem pregame ceremonies (Sandritter, 2016). The action went unnoticed due to the fact Kaepernick was not in uniform or scheduled to play. Instead, on August 26, 2016, a picture of Kaepernick sitting on the bench in uniform while the national anthem played during a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers was tweeted by a beat writer for an online sport publication (Chan, 2016). The tweet quickly gained attention prompting media sources to initiate discussions on Kaepernick’s actions.

In an interview with NFL Media following the game and tweet, Kaepernick indicated his refusal to stand during the national anthem was to express his dissent for the oppression of black people and people of color (Wyche, 2016). Kaepernick soon began kneeling for the national anthem igniting waves of copy-cat demonstrations by scores of youth, high school, collegiate, and professional athletes (Bishop, 2016, p. 70; Toporek, 2016; Zirin, 2016).

The issue of racial and social injustice in America gained national attention due to Kaepernick’s silent protest which sparked ongoing debate regarding the ethical and legal implications behind his actions and decisions. Normative ethics is a theoretical construct to explain the appropriateness of Colin Kaepernick’s decision to conduct a silent protest before NFL games. The nature of normative ethics permits individuals to rationalize the degree to which conduct, such as the silent protest by the 49ers backup quarterback, is good or bad according to standards.

In the NFL, normative ethics has been applied to debating the use of Native American mascots, concussion treatment and litigation, physician confidentiality, the application of the “Rooney” Rule to increase the percentage of minorities in leadership roles, discipline actions for cases of domestic violence, drug testing, the act of clearing snow from a spot on the field before a field goal attempt, excessive end zone celebrations, and even fan tailgating activities (Deubert, Cohen, Lynch, 2016; Hudson & Spradley, 2016; Thornton, Champion Jr, & Ruddell, 2012). Discussion on debated topics typically addresses the dichotomy of perceptions regarding whether ¬particular actions of the league, teams, players, or fans are right or wrong.

This paper addresses normative ethics to evaluate the appropriateness of the San Francisco 49er’s Colin Kaepernick’s failure to stand during the national anthem throughout the 2016 NFL season. An examination of the nine principles of normative ethics will explore a range of values and legal constructs as they apply to the actions of the NFL player. Further examination of Kaepernick’s case through the moral framework of three sub-theories of normative ethics (virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism) will add a dimension of critical analysis.

Normative Ethics
Normative ethics, or the study of ethical action, is a branch of philosophy that assists individuals in evaluating what is considered normal or abnormal behavior by questioning what is generally perceived to meet, exceed, or fall below a particular standard or threshold. Normative ethics has been described as the virtues, values, ends, and practices generally considered by a society as being “good, right, correct, (or) best” (Flanagan, Ancell, Martin, & Steenbergen, 2014). In general, normative ethics validates appropriate standards of conduct according to duties and rules that should ordinarily be followed by individuals (Thorton et al., 2012, pg. 6). A subjective interpretation of behavior is permitted when applying normative ethics to determine if action is good or bad, right or wrong, or somewhere in between.

The application of normative ethics considers sub-theories of virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism (Crisp, 2015; Filip, Saheba, Wick, & Radfar, 2016; Flanagan et al., 2014; Thorton et al., 2012). Virtue ethics considers the moral character of the agent to determine the appropriateness of actions based on expected characteristics. Deontology uses a principled approach in examining the role of rules and duty as they apply to the formal properties of the action, behavior, or conduct. Finally, consequentialism focuses on the outcomes and benefits of an action to determine the correctness or appropriateness (Filip et al., 2016).

Thorton et al., (2012, p. 7) nine principles of normative ethics also assists in evaluating the degree to which actions by an individual can be considered right or wrong. These nine principles are benevolence, honesty, autonomy, justice, paternalism, harm, social benefit, rights, and lawfulness. Several of the principles (benevolence, honesty, autonomy, paternalism, harm, and social benefit) permit greater latitude in evaluating characteristics of actions as they withstand a more liberal interpretation from individual perception. Three of the principles (justice, rights, and lawfulness), however, are judged upon stricter conditions through legal or judicial interpretation of behavior.

Although there is some overlap, several of the principles align more closely with the sub-theory of consequentialism when considering harm or social benefit as an outcome of the actions. Other principles such as honesty and benevolence align more closely with the sub-theory of virtue ethics in evaluating the moral character of the individual displaying the questionable behavior. Finally, several principles (e.g. autonomy, lawfulness) are attributable to the act itself aligning with a deontological approach for evaluating the acceptability or appropriateness of behaviors.

The Framework of Normative Ethics for Evaluating Kaepernick’s Silent Protest
Kaepernick’s decision to refuse to stand during the national anthem correlates to an analysis of a series of events that may explain the ethical dilemmas that resulted. The action of sitting or kneeling is only one part of the scenario; the timing and rationale also need to be considered to explain the full implications of Kaepernick’s decision as it relates to normative ethics.

In terms of virtue ethics and the moral character of the individual, a deeper analysis can be conducted on Kaepernick as a member of society and the NFL. Secondly, deontology permits a deeper analysis of the actual act of refusing to stand during the national anthem in respect to Kaepernick’s intentions for kneeling or sitting (duty) and the consideration for the legality of his actions (rules). Finally, consequentialism assesses the results and outcomes of the NFL player’s decisions on stakeholders and society as a whole.

There are general expectations of how a professional athlete in the NFL should conduct himself which makes a case for applying the sub-theory of virtue ethics to explain the correctness of Kaepernick’s questionable actions. Secondly, examining Kaepernick’s sense of duty and virtue to bring an issue that he felt was being ignored to attention applies to deontology when deciphering the actual act of kneeling or sitting during the national anthem. Finally, tracking the consequences of his actions on individual groups and society as a whole purports the acceptance of consequentialism as a means to decide the appropriateness of Kaepernick’s gestures during the national anthem.

Virtue Ethics
As previously indicated, virtue ethics explores the general characteristics or traits of the individual (agent) committing the action or behavior questioned for its appropriateness or correctness. Benevolence and honesty, for example, are two principles of normative ethics that correlate with virtue ethics. If one were to consider Colin Kaepernick as a genuinely benevolent and honest individual, virtue ethics would validate his failure to stand during the national anthem as appropriate behavior.

What makes this philosophical thought more intriguing is the concept of relativism in not accepting virtuous traits as universal or absolute. Using relativism as a framework, Kaepernick’s actions would be a matter of interpreting the player’s general nature as virtuous and good or bad. His charitable contributions in time and money validate his benevolence. His charity efforts includes a pledge of $100,000 a month for ten months ($1 million total) to “fight oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism” (Colin Kaepernick Foundation, n.d.). He donated proceeds from jersey sales and during a bye week in the 2016 NFL season, the back-up quarterback donated his time mentoring over 100 youth on nutrition, health, and interacting with law enforcement officials (Reimer, 2016).

In addition to his charitable contributions, a former NFL coach used the term “remarkable” to describe Kaepernick while additionally praising him as an “outstanding player and trusted teammate” (Harbaugh, 2017). Given the credibility of his former coach who can attest to the general characteristics and traits of the player, virtue ethics would assist in substantiating the appropriateness Kaepernick failure to stand during the national anthem.

Virtue ethics has many different definitions in various ethical theories. Aristotle links a person’s character of good or bad to habituation and the continual choices a person makes will either be good or bad (Aristotle, 1894). Rather than using all of Aristotle’s ethics, Aristotle (2015) believes a neo-Aristotelian theory should be utilized, in which some parts of his theories explain virtue ethics, but not all his theories. Habit, for example, helps to define the character of Colin Kaepernick as a professional sports athlete. He has a talent for learning routines and executing repetitions in practices and games, but having a skill is not a value associated with an individual’s character as a good or bad person. Annas (2015) indicates that virtue is not defined by a situation but rather how the person handled the situation. Individuals may claim they are good and have a general propensity to assist people in need, but following through and having tangible evidence of how individuals are helped is a greater indicator of good or benevolent character.

Evidence of Kaepernick’s character may be seen in his charitable contributions and in his candid meeting with the press shortly after his initial silent protest was publically noticed. He spoke about injustice and the fact that he wanted to present an uncomfortable conversation in hopes that the country could become unified on the topic (Sandritter, 2016). Within a short span, the message of oppression towards a specific race was equated with the injustice that people in American society identified with through Kaepernick’s words and gestures. By generating publicity and conversation, one could generalize his virtuous character in attempting to bring attention to a social issue.

The subject of police brutality is the outrage that provided the impetus to the message behind Kaepernick’s silent protests. Due to multiple incidents within a short period, exposing the issue of race and police brutality was already gaining national media attention before the 2016 NFL season. Individuals concluded Kaepernick was expressing a specific side of the emerging national debate when he reported to practice depicting cops as pigs on his socks. Comments surfaced that he was insulting the police by wearing the socks. Kaepernick posted a message on his Instagram stating his intentions were to further raise national attention against rogue cops that are dangerous to people and cops as well (Kaepernick7, n.d.).

Substantiating the virtuous character of Kaepernick described by a former coach and evidenced by his charitable contributions becomes challenging considering his decision to wear socks depicting cops as pigs and asserting his status as a sensationalized professional player to exasperate a message about the dangers of rouge police through social media. Applying virtue ethics to determine whether the former back-up quarterback was correct in staging silent protests over the 2016 season further exposes a dichotomy of public perception depending on cognitive appraisal of his character.

The sub-theory of deontology evaluates an act as correct or right “solely in virtue of its being in accordance with a correct moral rule or principle” (Hurthouse, 1991, as cited in Crisp, 2015). Deontology does not focus on the moral characteristics of the agent committing the act or the consequences of actions to individual groups or society as a whole. Instead, deontology seeks to explain the morality or correctness solely of the particular act through an assessment of rules, laws, duties, or obligations.

In terms of assessing whether Kaepernick’s actions violated any governing rules or laws, both the United States (U.S.) Constitution and the bylaws of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement are to be considered. First, Kaepernick did not verbalize his protest, but his actions, according to the 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution, was permissible given he exercised his right to freedom of expression and to peacefully assemble to petition the government (U.S. Const. amend. I). Therefore, he did not breach any laws governing society as a whole. Secondly, the NFL Handbook and Collective Bargaining Agreement does not include language to address behavior expected during the playing of the national anthem (The National Football League, 2011, 2016). Similarly, the San Francisco 49ers do not publish rules or language to address behavior expected during the playing of the national anthem (Cacciola, 2016). Therefore, Kaepernick did not violate any governing laws as a member of the NFL and his team.

If Kaepernick were a member of the National Basketball Association (NBA), his silent protest would have breached league rules since, unlike the NFL, The Official Rules of the National Basketball Association 2015-2016 (2015, p. 61) states that “players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem [sic].” In the late nineties, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, then a player with the Denver Nuggets, was suspended a game for not standing in a dignified fashion during the National Anthem (Koenig, 1998). Using normative ethics and the principle of lawfulness, Abdul-Rauf and Kaepernick’s protests could seem identical, as both players protested silently during the national anthem, but both employers had different protocols in place to determine if the conduct was proper. In the case of Kaepernick, he would have been ethically correct to protest in the manner he chose, while Abdul-Rauf would have demonstrated improper conduct for an action that is similar. In comparing the cases of Kaepernick and Abdul-Rauf, normative ethics using deontological as a guiding framework does not permit a plausible explanation according to the theory of absolutism. Masteralexis, Barr, and Hums (2015) state, “absolutism argues that moral precepts are universal; that is, they are applicable to all circumstances” (p.141). Two people in the same situation did not produce the same results as to determining the appropriateness of their conduct.

While Keapernick’s silent protests did not constitute a legal rule violation, deontology permits consideration for motives behind an action to rationalize correctness or acceptability according to perceptions of principled behavior. At the time of the 2016 season of silent protests, Kaepernick was no longer the starting quarterback for the 49ers. Taking into account that he was now a backup and no longer in a starting role, there is cause to speculate that his protests were a means to earn his way back into the spotlight. Whether Kaepernick was truly acting in efforts to assist the socially oppressed or if he had a personal agenda to help further his career exasperates the conundrum of judging if his failure to stand before the national anthem was right or wrong. Principled behavior, as deontology purports, would be demonstrated by intentions to assist the oppressed; however, furthering one’s own agenda would be contrary to the assumption of moral or principled actions.

Negative public reaction to Kaepernick’s failure to stand during the national anthem was also grounded in ideas of Patriotism. Primoratz (2008) defines Patriotism as “the love of one’s country, identification with it, and special concern for its well-being and that of compatriots” (p. 206). Using this definition, the act of kneeling or sitting during the national anthem would be considered unpatriotic and wrong according to a view of normative ethics focusing on deontology or principled behavior.

Kaepernick’s conduct has created an interesting conundrum. From one perspective, a person could view his actions as unpatriotic suggesting the silent protests during the 2016 season were morally and ethically inappropriate. Others, however, may view his actions as patriotic and appropriate in the sense the player stood up (metaphorically) for his beliefs in an effort to raise awareness of social inequality and police misconduct. Deontology provides the context to evaluate the actions, including the motives, of Kaepernick when he refused to stand for the national anthem.

Kaepernick is not the first sports athlete to protest social inequity in the United States. One of the most famous silent protests against social injustice is the 1968 Olympic medal podium in which Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a black-gloved hand above their heads (Osmond, 2010). What makes Kaepernick’s protest unique, is how other sports athletes joined the silent protest. On September 1st, 2016, Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reed was the first person other than Kaepernick to kneel during the anthem (Sandritter, 2016). The movement started to spread as other athletes in various sports began to kneel or raise his/her fist in solidarity. Some athletes were joining in on the message while others were starting to use his/her superstar recognition to promote various other social injustices in the United States. Within several months, similar protests were reported at 52 high schools, 39 colleges, one middle school, and two youth teams in 35 states and three countries overseas (Gibbs and Khan, 2016; Toperek, 2016). Players from at least three teams in the WNBA, a gold medal swimmer competing in Brazil, and USA soccer player Megan Rapinoe, all followed suit with a form of silent protest during the playing of the national anthem before their competition (Caccliola, 2016; Sandritter, 2016).

Obviously, Kaepernick’s actions had an impact on other athletes who aspired to emulate his actions. Consequentialism argues that the morality of an action is contingent upon the impact or outcome. For one, Kaepernick unknowingly became a transformational leader. Groves and LaRocca (2011) state, “transformational leaders influence their followers by developing and communicating a collective vision and inspiring them to look beyond self-interests for the good of the team and organization” (p. 512). The Times (2017) magazine named Kaepernick as one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2017, however, former lists have also included world assassin Osama bin Ladin and Bernard Madoff, convicted of the largest Ponzi scheme in American History (The Times, 2009).

Consequentialism, according to Hursthouse (1999, as cited in Crisp, 2015) contends that actions are right if they promote the best outcomes in which “happiness is maximized.” Certainly, Kaepernick’s actions had an impact on numerous stakeholders. For one, his immediate employer (the San Francisco 49ers) finished the 2016 season with 2 wins and 14 losses and the NFL experienced a decline in television ratings including a 11% drop in the first six weeks (Perez, 2016). In an evaluation of the consequences, perceptions from stakeholders negatively affected by Kaepernick’s actions would contend his silent protests were counterproductive. Still, the theory of absolutism would question whether Kaepernick’s actions were the sole reason behind the team’s poor field performance or the ratings decline in the NFL. In a poll of NFL fans, 40% of those who were watching fewer games cited the Kaepernick distraction while 17% referenced the U.S. presidential election as a deterrent (Perez, 2016).

Consequentialism may explain the inappropriateness of Kaepernick’s silent protests based on outcomes experienced by the NFL and San Francisco 49ers. However, consequentialism works in favor of validating his actions according to an assessment of the outcomes towards the population of socially oppressed citizens in the United States, the primary stakeholder group which the player targeted through his silent protests. Those who experienced unwarranted police brutality or other types of social or racial injustice would contend that Kaepernick’s actions were indeed moral and acceptable, according to consequentialism. The widespread public attention associated with issues of social oppression caused greater pleasure than pain for a portion of society who may have felt slighted by racial or other types of injustice.

Principles of Normative Ethics and Kaepernick’s Silent Protest
Applying Thorton et al., (2012) nine principles of normative ethics permits a deeper analysis of Kaepernick’s behavior to evaluate the appropriateness of his actions. Each principle incorporates a basis to assess societal views and to establish an individual judgement regarding whether Kaepernick’s conduct by failing to stand during the national anthem was right or wrong. The principles can be connected to the sub-theories of virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism with some overlap.

(1) Benevolence
The first principle of normative ethics, benevolence, describes a propensity to assist others in need through acts of kindness or humanitarianism. Similar to benevolence is the concept of altruism described as an individual’s unselfish actions and activities to help the welfare of others (Kitcher, 2010). In terms of virtue ethics, one may consider Kaepernick to be characteristically benevolent or kind or altruistic in his donation of time and money to assist the oppressed. As previously indicated, the former quarterback pledged $1 million from his namesake foundation and donated proceeds from jersey sales to fight oppression. He also donated time to mentor underprivileged youth on nutrition, health, and law enforcement.

Kaepernick genuinely believed that a social injustice was being ignored and his celebrity status would assist to raise awareness of an elusive issue in mainstream society. The concept of benevolence in this scenario could be considered contextual since Kaepernick demonstrated a concern for the well-being of those that were being harmed by social injustice (Christian, 2012). Once his silent protest was noticed, news sources and social media brought the issue of social injustice to a national debate which was one of the intentions of his act.

(2) Honesty
Honesty, the second principle of normative ethics, is often described as a synonym for integrity or truthfulness and defined as the act of refraining from deception. Virtue ethics assesses the honest nature and general characteristics or traits of Kaepernick in being truthful. Public accounts do not indicate instances whereby the player acted deceitful or dishonest throughout his life. In general, Kaepernick’s general nature could be considered honest.

In deontological terms to determine if Kaepernick’s intentions were honest when choosing to sit, then kneel during the national anthem as a gesture to help others in need, two tests could be applied. The first test is the correspondence test which justifies the accuracy of a statement by fact checking (Christian, 2012). In an exclusive interview with NFL reporter Steve Wyche (2016, para. 3) following the first occasion his actions to sit during the national anthem were publicized, Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” When making this statement, it was surmised that Kaepernick based his response on the “black lives matter” movement which highlighted institutionalized discrimination against African-Americans following the shooting of unarmed black people by white police (Sanchez & Giwargis, 2016). Thus, his statement could be considered honest and true by virtue of being validated by other sources.

The second test for honesty is the “coherence” test which purports a fact-claim can be accepted as true “if it harmonizes (coheres) with other facts that one has already accepted as true” (Christian, 2012, p. 206). Kaepernick’s statement could also be considered factual or honest as purported by the coherence test by virtue of his personal cognition of events upon viewing media reports on police brutality and evidence of social injustice (Biderman, 2016).

(3) Autonomy
Autonomy, the third principle of normative ethics, recognizes an individual’s independence or natural freedom from external controls. Autonomy can be applied to assessing the duties and rules of his actions as deontological theories support.
In the physical sense, Kaepernick was freely allowed to sit (or kneel) without interference or restraint of his actions by team or NFL officials. In the metaphorical sense as it relates to normative ethics, Kaepernick sensed a freedom or autonomy in having a right to kneel or sit during the anthem. In this respect, autonomy partially explains the player’s behavior in contrast of the norms set by others (Christian, 2012). When staging his silent protest, Kaepernick was seemingly acting in spite of peer pressure, impending consequences from authority figures, or forthcoming negative reactions from the general public.

(4) Justice
Justice, the fourth principle of normative ethics, suggests an individual has the right to live, act, and be judged in a manner considered fair and equitable. In evaluating the potential consequences of Kaepernick’s actions to bring about reform for those afflicted by social injustice, consequentialism views through normative ethics would suggest his actions were virtuous, beneficial, and just. Considering the intentions to provide justice to ensure people get what they deserve, Kaepernick’s protests were to send a message that selected police in a surge of brutality cases should be punished to a greater extent. Those who believe the silent protests throughout the NFL season assisted in providing justice to the oppressed in making their lives better would support the correctness of Kaepernick’s actions.

(5) Paternalism
Paternalism, the fifth principle of normative ethics, describes the act of “assisting others to achieve what is in their best interests when they are unable to do so” (Thornton et al., 2012, p.7). Paternalism also suggests a protectionist gesture to further the dominant ideology such as a government’s providing social welfare for individuals below the poverty level. Paternalism could be considered the central intention behind Kaepernick’s silent protest in purporting a protectionist attitude for those afflicted by oppression due to their social class or race. Some may argue that Kaepernick’s intentions were selfish and in satisfying his own purpose to gain personal attention as opposed to paternalistic in efforts to assist the welfare of others. Despite criticism, the paternalism principle for validating the normative ethics of Kaepernick’s silent protest can be validated by the national attention on the issue of social injustice generated by his decision to sit, then kneel during the national anthem.

(6) No Harm
The sixth principle for considering conduct appropriate according to normative ethics is to do no harm to others (Thornton et al., 2012). Harm can be inferred in different forms. While no one was physically affected by Kaepernick’s failure to stand during the national anthem, harm can be inferred to his employer since NFL media ratings declined during the period, whether attributable to the silent protests or due to unrelated factors. While a poll conducted through by the Sharkey Institute at Seton Hall University (2016) revealed that 56% of 841 adults blamed the national anthem protest on the decline in NFL ratings, other variables such as the timing of the presidential debates may have also affected a drop in viewership. Therefore, it is difficult to assess whether the normative principle not to harm others (i.e., Kaepernick’s employer) was adhered to when the quarterback failed to stand during the national anthem.

(7) Social Benefit
Social benefit, the seventh principle of normative ethics, also supports the application of consequentialism in evaluating Kaepernick’s conduct. Social benefit advocates that some actions may be advantageous to society as a whole and therefore, are considered prudent or appropriate conduct.

In his staged silent protest each time the national anthem was played during the 2016 San Francisco 49ers games, Kaepernick’s demonstration was intended to target a community within society, namely, the oppressed. It can be surmised that Kaepernick’s refusal to stand was ethically justified based on the social benefit explained by Jeremy Bentham’s hedonic calculus theory of Utilitarianism purporting that actions are right if they benefit the majority (Schneider, 2010, p. 52). Considering a shorter metric of the hedonic calculus theory, Kaepernick did not cause more pain than pleasure for society. Since pleasure, in this case, is greater than the pain, one may claim that society benefitted from the protest.

(8) Rights
The eighth principle of normative ethics is “rights” which, according to Thorton et al., (2012, p. 7), refers to “autonomy, privacy, free expression, and personal safety.” Deontology applies to the principle of rights as a condition of duties and rules guiding actions. His rights afforded by the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution permitted the freedom to express his views in a silent protest. Kaepernick exercised the right to act autonomously as long as he wasn’t in violation of rules or laws or breached his duties as a professional player and citizen of the United States of America. While Kaepernick’s personal safety was violated after receiving death threats through social media and other avenues, the personal safety of others was not at risk by the actions of his silent protest (Maiocco, 2016). Finally, by selecting a national television audience, Kaepernick waived any rights to privacy.

(9) Lawfulness
The ninth and final principle for considering conduct appropriate according to normative ethics and the sub-theory of deontology is “lawfulness” which refers to the rules and laws that benefit both individuals and society as a whole (Thornton et al., 2012, p. 7). To address the lawfulness of Kaepernick’s silent protests, it is essential to consider the rules and laws governing actions as a member of the National Football League (individually) and the constitutional laws governing society as a whole. In the NFL, kneeling or sitting during the national anthem does not violate any rules or laws which is a condition of using deontology to explain the right or wrong nature of Kaepernick’s action. According to freedom afforded by the 1st amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the rules of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement, there were no breach of legal rules or laws by Kaepernick when he chose to sit and kneel during the national anthem.

It has been surmised that ethical or moral theories should aim not merely serve a purpose to distinguish right from wrong or good from bad, but to provide an explanation (Crisp, 2015). A framework has been created in attempt to explain Kaepernick’s silent protest by virtue of three sub-theories and nine principles associated with normative ethics. The sub-theories of virtue ethics, deontology, and consequentialism provide a lens to judge whether Kaepernick was right or wrong when sitting, then kneeling, during the national anthem. The nine principles of normative ethics provide additional tools to assist in judging the appropriateness of the actions and character that started a national dialogue on social injustice in America.

Although this paper is a framework, a definitive answer using ethical theories to determine if Kaepernick can be considered right or wrong for his protest is still grounded in individual perception and relativism. The nation became polarized as discussion over the concept of right and wrong was being debated. Using virtue ethics, an analysis of his actions gave some insight into Kaepernick’s moral compass. A consequentialist would state that the results of the protest mattered more than the maneuvers to determine if he was right or wrong (Mizzoni, 2009). Those applying deontology judged the principled nature and motives of Kaepernick’s actions to assess if the silent protests for right or wrong. A future paper could further explore the interaction of the theories in explaining the success or failure of silent protest to raise awareness of minimize the occurrence of social injustices.

Anthony Weston (2006) categorizes ethical decisions as “right versus right” whereby instead of choosing a side of a discussion, both perspectives should be considered. Philosopher John Dewey (1929) states that only a dogmatist would see an issue as good or bad and not consider what both sides have to say. In light of multiple views on the issue of Kaepernick’s silent protests during the 2016 NFL season, normative ethics provides the appropriate framework for which individuals can validate personal views on a rare occurrence in professional sports.


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