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New Documentary takes on Militarism, Heteronormativity and White Supremacy: Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL

October 5, 2022

Editors note: Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL is a must see documentary that you can watch for free until October 15th. Just go to this link to watch.

There was a time when I thought that watching sports or discussing sports was a waste of time. As I matured in my political thought and continued to read people like Dave Zirin, I came to realize that sports was no different than any other institution when it came to where people can resist White Supremacy, militarism, homophobia, Capitalism and gender discrimination. 

Zirin has written numerous books on politics and sports, such as a People’s History of Sports in the United States: 250 Years of Politics, Protest, People, and Play, or The Kaepernick Effect: Taking a Knee, Changing the World. In addition, Zirin has produced several documentaries over the years, specifically through the Media Education Foundation. I was excited to see his posts on social media about Behind the Shield: The Power and Politics of the NFL, so much so that I felt it was important to do a post on GRIID about this important work.

Ten years ago, I did an interview with Dave Zirin and great Dr. John Carlos, who was one of those trailblazing athletes that used his platform to make a powerful statement about sports and politics. These two men were speaking at GVSU about their new book, The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World. 

After watching Behind the Shield, I was blown away. The film is not only well done, but it provides a powerful deconstruction of one of the most beloved institutions in American culture, the game of football. 

This documentary provides some insight into the evolution of the game, particularly the push to use the game to make men tougher at the beginning of the 20th Century. The forces in society that want to maintain systems of power and oppression, like patriarchy, are always pushing back against efforts to create a more justice and equitable society. The push to make football a sport to toughen up men, was a direct response to the Women’s Suffrage Movement, which was not only organizing to win the right to vote for women, this movement sought to dismantle male domination is all of its forms.

As was already mentioned, Behind the Shield deals with the economic power of owners and other class dynamics, along with heteronormativity, and militarism, which began during the US domestic opposition to the war in Vietnam, but escalated after 9/11 and the US War on Terror. However, the other major theme in this film is how deeply entrenched White Supremacy is within the game and how the game amplifies structural racism based on the response by owners, the league, the news media and the fans alike. 

The film takes a close look at the league and public responses to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to take a knee during the National Anthem. Kaepernick’s decision was based on his desire to challenge business as usual around the increasing number of Black people who were being killed by cops. Kaepernick was punished for such defiance, but his actions exposed how deeply racist the American culture is. However, Zirin argues that Kaepernick’s protest was vindicated when millions took to the streets in 2020, after the police murdered George Floyd. 

Behind the Shield is a film that is about the power of resistance, and it is a film about how sports have always been space where systems of oppression meet the struggle for justice. This film is intersectional and engaging. Watch it Now, while if is free, or join an effort to organize a public screening to further this important public conversation.  

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