US & Canada

NFL anthem protest: How fist salute became a symbol

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters Image copyright AP
Image caption Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters raises his fist in the air during the national anthem before an NFL football game

Nationally televised American Monday night football kicked off after San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick continued his demonstration against police brutality and inequality by kneeling during the national anthem.

Some of his teammates and players around the nation have been following Kaepernick's lead by raising fists in the air while the "Star Spangled Banner" is played.

The players are seen to identify with the Black Lives Matter movement, which started after a string of US police killings of unarmed black citizens.

But the protest draws on a rich history of fist-raising symbolism.

What does the fist salute mean?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Black American athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos raise their fists

The fist salute has represented various acts of solidarity and defiance over a long time, but the acts of the NFL players are most reminiscent of the salute during the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Black athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists after receiving medals at the games.

In the 1960s the fist salute became a symbol of black-power militant groups in the US like the Black Panther Party which carried out armed citizens' patrols to monitor police behaviour in California during the 1960s.

Is there a link between the protests?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Colin Kaepernick (R) and Eric Reid kneel in protest during the national anthem prior to playing the Los Angeles Rams in their NFL game

In a recent interview with the news agency, Reuters, Olympic sprinter John Carlos said Kaepernick's protest was a "shock treatment" for America.

"He's bringing attention to the issues. And how did he bring attention to them? The same way we did 48 years ago in terms of giving America shock treatment."

Carlos said that the Black Lives Matter Movement was connected to the civil rights movements in the 1960s.

"We were gardeners and caretakers. We till the earth. We plant the seeds. We water the ground. And what you see today is the fruit of our labour," Carlos said. "This is a movement, this is not a moment."

Who else has made the fist protest?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Beyonce and backup dancers during the Super Bowl half-time show

The performance by African-American singer Beyonce, at the NFL Super Bowl earlier this year drew strong reactions. Dressed in black leather and black berets, the singers and dancers raised fists into the air during the show, mimicking the Black Panthers' salute.

In May, a group of 16 female African-American cadets studying at the US military academy West Point took a photo on the steps of the academy with fists raised.

Related Topics

More on this story