Carl L. and Mary Anne Kell Distinguished Lecture Series in Communication kicks off

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

On Tuesday evening, the Grise Hall Auditorium filled with students, faculty, staff and community members. They gathered to hear from Michael Butterworth, the Director of the Center for Sports Communication and Media at University of Texas at Austin.

His lecture was called “Anthems, Athletes, and Activism: Communicating about Patriotism and Race in Contemporary Sport.”

According to the communication department, about 400 people attended. The lecture was the first in the Carl L. and Mary Anne Kell Distinguished Lecture Series in Communication, named for Kell and his late wife.

“Mike Butterworth is an expert on sport, communication and democracy,” Helen Sterk, head of the communication department, said. “I think the intersection of those three is so interesting.”

Butterworth began his presentation by giving background about symbols of America such as the anthem and flag. Butterworth gave information that could be considered common knowledge, mixed with a deeper look.

Butterworth’s presentation delved into the “taking the knee” social movement, started by Colin Kaepernick in 2016. Butterworth went into what the action of taking a knee at sporting events and how people react show about patriotism versus anti-patriotism. He then went further into how this social movement reflect race and politics in contemporary sport, namely football.

The presentation also looked more closely into the associations and specific instances where correlations have been drawn between politics and sports. He used many anecdotes to cover a range of views.

Butterworth said the goal of the presentation was to both provide some historical context about the American flag and anthem, particularly in sporting events, as well as delve into the political and racial symbols now associated with the flag and anthem.

According to Sterk, Butterworth’s presentation aimed to “pull apart what all different kinds of audiences see” when acts of patriotism are shown at sporting events.

“I hope it can help students better understand the connections between politics and sports and to recognize the multiple ways these patriotic symbols have been and can be used,” Butterworth said. 

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