Lecture to explore connection between patriotism and race

Michael Butterworth speaks at “Anthems, Athletes, and Activism: Communication about Patriotism and Race in Contemporary Sport” Feb. 27 in Grise Hall auditorium. This was the first of the Distinguished Lecture Series in Communication, which was founded by communication professors Carl and Mary Anne Kell.

Julie Sisler

In honor of Black History Month, WKU will host Michael Butterworth, director of the Center for Sports Communication and Media and professor of communication studies from University of Texas at Austin, for a presentation called “Anthems, Athletes, and Activism: Communicating about Patriotism and Race in Contemporary Sport.”

The lecture will be the first in the Carl L. and Mary Anne Kell Distinguished Lecture Series in Communication. It will take place tonight at 6 p.m. in the Grise Hall auditorium.

“With the program, we’re aiming to inform and give them [students] an opportunity to be exposed to more speakers,” Carl Kell, professor emeritus of communication, said. He and his wife founded the series.

Butterworth is a distinguished scholar in multiple areas but focuses on communication and athletics. He has authored multiple books, including “Baseball and Rhetorics of Purity: The National Pastime and American Identity during the War on Terror.” He is also a published author in numerous journals.

He also serves as the chair of the Communication and Sport Division for the National Communication Association and secretary of the Sports Communication Interest Group for the International Communication Association.

The lecture series will feature multiple speakers from various areas of study coming together in an effort to provide WKU students with more exposure to outside speakers. The series will also place an emphasis on the importance and relevance of public-speaking skills for students.

“The series is intended to bring in really high profile, distinguished scholars who speak in ways that students can understand and relate to,” Helen Sterk, head of the communication department, said.

Butterworth’s presentation will delve into the connections between patriotism and racism in modern, contemporary sports and how those connections relate to communication regarding those issues.

“He is, I’m sure, going to give a very interesting presentation,” Kell said. “It’s important information, even if you’re not into the athletic side of things.”

He will discuss the impacts of events such as those surrounding former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other athletes kneeling during the national anthem. His presentation will go further into the activism of these movements and their impacts. Butterworth will also touch on how race impacts these movements.

People are likely familiar with the act of taking a knee or refusing to stand during the national anthem as Kaepernick made headlines for kneeling during the national anthem in August 2016. Since then, it has grown more and more into a recognizable form of protest.

Kaepernick, in an August 2016 interview, told NFL media he was protesting what he deemed as “wrongdoings against African Americans and minorities in the United States.”

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Much of the criticism surrounding kneeling during the anthem centers around the perceived disrespect towards American soldiers, veterans and other military members.

“I’m very pleased that this is happening during Black History Month because I believe that this is black history in the making,” Sterk said.

Sterk said Butterworth will explore both sides of the argument surrounding athletes using public events to express private beliefs and whether or that is considered patriotism or anti-patriotism.

Kell said he hopes that students who attend will gain a deeper understanding of the everyday impacts of communication and its importance.

“My goal for the lecture is to fill every seat in Grise 235,” Kell said.

Butterworth’s presentation is a swipeable event for students.

Features reporter Julie Sisler can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow Julie on Twitter at @julie_sisler.