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CU Boulder research finds kneeling NFL players faced more career consequences

A University of Colorado Boulder study analyzed how NFL players’ choice to kneel during the national anthem impacted their careers, and the findings have implications for any workplace environment.

CU Boulder Professor Ethan Poskanzer examined the career trajectories of the first 50 NFL athletes to kneel in protest during the national anthem in 2016. The research found that players who kneeled faced career consequences, including lower pay, compared to non-kneeling players.

“Players lost earnings who protested on teams,” Poskanzer said, but the researchers were unable to produce evidence to explain why.

The study found that players who kneeled left their teams sooner than players who didn’t. Reasons for leaving include a trade, expired contract, choosing to leave the team and retirement.

Protesting players also made less money from the time of protest to the next five years, even if they moved teams, Poskanzer said. A big factor in career impacts for protesting players, he said, was whether they had a workplace environment that was supportive.

In NFL franchises that were supportive of protests, the players had minimal to zero career consequences. In organizations who were opposed to the player protests, the career consequences to the players were the largest.

A supportive or non-supportive position can be determined by how the fans, coaches, sponsors and others in the franchise feel about the protests.

Poskanzer said the findings of the study could apply to any job where protest is viewed as outside of the norm. A lot of workplaces, including the NFL, have norms against bringing in personal political views.

“It is evident in American workplaces that engaging in political activity can have consequences, and I think that’s just something important to know about how the labor market works,” Poskanzer said.

Forrest Briscoe, co-author and professor at Pennsylvania State University, said there’s not much quantitative research from the study to see how participating in protest activism in the workplace affects people’s careers outside the NFL.

“The main contribution (of the study) is to think about how that might happen,” Briscoe said.

Briscoe said it’s interesting and consequential to think about protesting people joining similarly-minded workplaces.

“You could get this increased sorting of activism-aligned organizations,” Briscoe said.

Poskanzer said the goal of the study is to give people information about how engaging in similar protests could affect their careers. He said it’s important to note this type of protest is not directly related to the workplace, like protesting for higher wages. It’s the use of a workplace as a platform to protest larger social or political issues.

These findings were a result of comparing NFL players who are similar in salary and quality of performance. The differentiating factor is whether the players protested.

The researchers chose the NFL to analyze because the players’ career-related information is easy to track and readily available.

Moving forward, Poskanzer said he’d be interested in studying how NFL organizations respond to this kind of protest. With other teams letting go of players or not hiring players because of politics, it was an opportunity for other NFL organizations to get better players.

Poskanzer said he’d like to know how teams’ hiring decisions respond to newly available talent because of political opinions that aren’t related to job performance.

Poskanzer also wants to look at how people’s opinions on protesting have changed since 2016 and conduct research in other, more typical workplaces. Briscoe said this research is a starting point to encourage more studies to be done on how this type of protest impacts careers in a variety of workplaces.

“I do think we could help activists learn how to pursue their values at work but also look after their careers because it really matters for people,” Briscoe said. SOURCE

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