Katharine Waters

Volume 73, Issue 5, 1593-1620

The Supreme Court has not faced a case involving the public university student athlete’s right to protest during game day events, such as during the pre-game warm up, the national anthem, and game play itself. Protests stemming from the arena of sports is nothing new, and athletes are supported by a long and rich history of influential professional athletes making their mark on civil rights movements. In light of recent and tragic killings of Black Americans at the hands of police, collegiate student athletes have begun to use their platform to raise awareness and express their political viewpoints. As a result, conservative lawmakers have urged public universities to act and wholly prohibit such protests in response to players electing to kneel during the national anthem.

This Note explores the current network of student free speech jurisprudence and applies the existing framework to a set of modern protests frequently observed across collegiate athletics: kneeling at the national anthem; wearing non-uniform, warm-up t-shirts with symbolic messages such as “Black Lives Matter,” “Arrest the Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor,” and “All Players United”; and wearing symbolic gear such as an armband during game play. Building on existing jurisprudence, this Note forecasts that student athletes at public universities have the constitutional right to protest subject to reasonable limitations.