Behind the Shield: The Power & Politics of the NFL

Film. By Dave Zirin and the Media Education Foundation. 2022. 94 minutes.
This documentary film explores the hidden politics of militarism, nationalism, gender, and race in the NFL.

Time Periods: 20th Century, 21st Century
Themes: Sports

In Behind the Shield, celebrated author and Nation magazine sports editor Dave Zirin tackles the myth that the NFL was somehow free of politics before Colin Kaepernick and other Black NFL players took a knee.

Digging deep into the history of the league, and navigating a stunning excavation of decades of archival footage and news media, Zirin traces how the NFL, under the guise of “sticking to sports,” has promoted wars, militarism, and nationalism; glorified reactionary ideas about manhood and gender roles; normalized systemic racism, corporate greed, and crony capitalism; and helped vilify challenges to the dominant order as “unpatriotic” and inappropriately “political.”

The result is a case study not only in the power of big-time sports to disseminate stealth propaganda and reinforce an increasingly authoritarian status quo, but also the power of activist athletes to challenge this unjust status quo and model a different, more democratic vision of the United States. [Description adapted from that provided by Media Education Foundation.]

ISBN: 978-1-893521-14-8 | Media Education Foundation


Behind the Shield is terrifying and brilliant. You cannot understand this country without understanding NFL football. I will be showing this film in my classes FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. — Robin D. G. Kelley

If you’re feeling ready for some football — watch this film. If you think you know the story of Colin Kaepernick — watch this film. If you think politics don’t belong in sports — watch this film. Watch this film! — Melissa Harris-Perry


You can stream the full movie at Vimeo or Kanopy.

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