Magoosh English Class: National Anthem Protests at NFL Games (Football Pt. 2)

In part two of our Sports in America: Football free English class series, we will look at one of the biggest recent controversies in American football: the national anthem protests at NFL games.


  • Learn about the controversy of national anthem protests in the NFL
  • Learn new football-related and general English vocabulary
  • Learn how and when to use the passive voice
  • Learn about the issues of racism and police brutality in America

Difficulty Level:



Approximately 15 minutes

National Anthem Protests at NFL Games

Click below to listen to a recording of this passage.

In the United States, the national anthem is played before every major sporting event. Both players and fans stand up to show respect for the nation’s official song. Many people also place their hands over their hearts while the music plays. Outside of sporting events, the national anthem is played at important national ceremonies, where it is always treated with great reverence by listeners.

During NFL games, the national anthem is seen as a symbol of patriotism and respect for military veterans. Oftentimes, military fighter jets will fly over the stadium as the song finishes, prompting the crowd to cheer in celebration. However, in recent years, the national anthem has also become a source of controversy and national discord.

On September 1st, 2016, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, did not stand for the national anthem. In fact, he decided to take a knee while the song played. Though this action went unnoticed at first, he was eventually questioned by the news media. He informed the reporters that he was kneeling to raise awareness of racism and police brutality in America.

Many Americans went to social media to show their support or vent their outrage over Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. However, in the following months, many other NFL players showed support for Kaepernick and his cause. The controversy quickly grew to the point that even President Donald Trump tweeted his opposition to Kaepernick’s actions.

Following the 2016 season, Colin Kaepernick became a free agent when he was released from his contract with the 49ers. He was unable to get hired by any other team, prompting Kaepernick to file a lawsuit against the NFL for conspiring to keep him out of the league. Following his exit from the NFL, Kaepernick (and many others) continued their efforts to raise awareness of racism and police brutality.

In 2019, Kaepernick became the face of Nike’s “Just Do It” advertising campaign, drawing further attention to the former NFL player and his protests. While Kaepernick helped raise awareness of an important cause, racism and police brutality continue to be a problem in America today. People of color in the United States are more likely to be the victims of fatal police shootings than white Americans.

Word Focus

Let’s take a closer look at some of the words in bold from the passage:

  • National anthem – (noun) – The official song of a nation.
    • Everyone stood as the national anthem began to play.
  • Reverence – (noun) – Respect for a thing or idea.
    • The players showed great reverence for their coach.
  • Patriotism – (noun) – Support for one’s own country.
    • People fly the American flag as a display of patriotism.
  • Discord – (noun) – Disagreement.
    • The discord between the two players was evident both on and off the field.
  • Quarterback – (noun) – A position in football; the leader or director of the offense.
    • The quarterback ran into the end zone for a touchdown.
  • Take a knee – (verb phrase) – Kneel; position the body so that one knee is touching the ground.
    • The quarterback took a knee as the game clock ran out.
  • Brutality – (noun) – Violence or cruel behavior.
    • The inherent brutality of football is the leading cause of injuries in the sport.
  • Vent – (verb) – To talk about feelings; to verbally express frustration or anger.
    • The player vented his frustration about being taken out of the game.
  • Free agent – (noun) – A professional athlete who is not currently under contract with any team.
    • He was only a free agent for a short time before the New York Giants hired him.
  • Conspire – (verb) – To make plans in secret; to try to bring about a negative or harmful outcome.
    • The team owners conspired to keep players from protesting during the games.
  • Fatal – (adjective) – Deadly; leading to death.
    • The player’s injury turned out to be fatal.

Grammar Center: Passive Voice

If you’ve ever written an essay in English or taken an advanced English course, you’ve probably heard of the passive voice. The passive voice (as opposed to the “active voice”) puts emphasis on the object, rather than the subject of a sentence. Here are a few examples from the passage:

  • In the United States, the national anthem is played before every major sporting event.
  • Though this action went unnoticed at first, he was eventually questioned by the news media.
  • He was unable to get hired by any other team…

As you can see, most examples of the passive voice use some form of “to be” (sometimes replaced with “got”) followed by a past participle. The passive voice also emphasizes the recipient of the action (the object) rather than the thing committing the action (the subject).

If we wanted to change these sentences to the active voice, we would need to change the tense (remove the past participle) and emphasize the subject, like this:

  • In the United States, bands play the national anthem before every major sporting event.
  • Though the news media did not notice his actions at first, they eventually questioned him on the matter.
  • No other team would hire him.

In these examples of active voice, we mentioned the subject before the object. The opposite is true in the passive voice.

Most English teachers and language experts agree that the active voice sounds stronger and more authoritative. As a result, your English teacher will probably encourage you to use the active voice in your writing. So, why use the passive voice at all?

When to use the passive voice

The passive voice exists for a reason. It works best when you want to focus on the action or the recipient of the action. It is also useful when the subject is vague, general, or unknown. Here are a few specific examples:

  • Focus on the action or the object
    • The quarterback was hit by a devastating tackle. (the tackle itself is more important than the player who did it)
    • The football was fumbled (dropped) out of bounds. (the movement of the football out of bounds is more important than the player who did it)
  • The subject is vague, general, or unknown
    • The national anthem was played for the cheering crowd. (the subject could be a band, a singer, or an event organizer playing a pre recorded song)
    • The NFL is viewed as a somewhat unethical organization. (the subject could be most Americans or people in general)


  1. Which of the following statements most accurately captures the central idea of the passage?A. Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem, sparking a nationwide conversation about racism and police brutality.B. The NFL punished Colin Kaepernick for his protest against racism and police brutality.C. Colin Kaepernick wanted to encourage other players to fight for social change, so he knelt during the national anthem.

    D. Despite opposition, Colin Kaepernick ultimately became a national figure in the fight against racism.

  2. What do Americans typically do during the national anthem?A. TalkB. SitC. Stand

    D. Kneel

  3. Which of the following could you vent about?A. Getting a promotionB. Passing an examC. Receiving an award

    D. Losing a bet

  4. Fill in the blank with the correct word or words: “While the broken leg caused him a lot of pain, it was certainly not a _____ injury.”A. DiscordB. FatalC. Football

    D. Bone

  5. Which of the following is an example of the passive voice?A. Head coaches always think about how to win.B. He got hit as soon as he caught the ball.C. None of the players knew what to do.

    D. The fans were feeling very anxious.

  6. In which situation should you use the passive voice?A. When you want to emphasize the subjectB. When you want to sound authoritativeC. When you want to emphasize the object

    D. When you want to impress your English teacher

    Show Correct Answers:
    1. A
    2. C
    3. D
    4. B
    5. B
    6. C
Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn!
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