First Amendment Rights and Football

Political heads like Donald Trump and Mike Pence vocalize the necessity for men in the NFL to stand for the flag and for the nation. Conversely, social activists in sports are telling military veterans that the protest of inequality is worth more than their sacrifice to the nation. The issue lies in the dilemma of morality and politics with both sides using sensationalism to disguise the fact of the matter: we live in a nation where you have freedoms to hold these differing opinions.
The premise of this issue is not the presence of patriotism – it’s empathy. Politics will always have a place in sports, yet the development of Colin Kaepernick’s protest has led to scrutiny in the fine line that is placed around first amendment rights and the jurisdiction they cover.
In the spirit of AllSides, an online news source whose mission it is “to exposes bias and provide multiple angles on the same story so you can quickly get the full picture, not just one slant,” both points of view have been developed in a highly divisive debate.
From the Left – Taking a Knee for Justice:  
Historically, the American flag has represented the values upon which our country was based. White stripes signifying purity, red stripes for bravery and the blue embodying vigilance and justice. But if our nation is supposed to stand by these morals, the grounds upon which our land of liberty was built, shouldn’t justice be available to all? In the debate surrounding the National Football League, Colin Kaepernick set a precedent for protesting the social injustice placed upon African Americans and those that lie victim to police brutality.
Sally Jenkins, a journalist for the Washington Post says, “how can we be the home of the free if we force and pressure everyone to stand for the brave?” Although the first amendment can be challenged by how far the limits of each freedom can be stretched, any human should not be denied their first amendment right to freedom of speech, press, religion, petition or assembly. Athletes protesting the lack of justice, a virtue upon which our nation was built, should not have to stand for a symbol of a nation that does not include all.

It is no mystery that sports are a huge part of the American pastime. Athletes are idolized as celebrities, we as Americans worship a sports team and the quarterback or point guard who drove the team to victory is depicted as godly. NFL players are rightful, resourceful and smart in using their societal standing as celebrities to promote a controversy they believe in. The NFL Players Association has protected and backed the players who have chosen to kneel during the anthem by releasing a statement saying, “Our men and their families are also conscientious Americans...and some have decided to use their platform to peacefully raise awareness to issues that deserve attention.”
Kaepernick ignited this social protest; however, athletes everywhere should use their celebrity status to promote awareness of a pertinent social issue and should feel comfortable refusing to stand for something they don’t feel represented by – standing firm in confronting the taboo reality that racism still exists in our modern society.
The broad point of Colin Kaepernick and those that chose to follow in his peaceful protest has nothing to do with disrespect for the military, anthem or flag. The point is to refuse to stand for something that does not include, or represent, all people.
Racism and discrimination has inundated America for decades, dating back to horrors of genocide, slavery and even including large political inequality still existing today. If an issue is never confronted and challenged we cannot expect to make positive progress – exemplifying the relation between sports and politics.
Although the conversation of confronting flaws of our society and nation is a difficult one to have, Kaepernick opened the door for this discussion, resulting in a vehicle and opportunity for change. The number of players, coaches and teams that have stood behind him and joined in on the passive protest are a testament to how large of a problem this is in America.
The land of the free, and the home of the brave – maybe one day through efforts from people like Colin Kaepernick, we will be able to confidently say that the star-spangled banner does wave over a land where the brave incited social changes for everyone to finally be free. 

From the Right – Football and Activism, Two Different Games:
Picture this: it is August 26th, 2016, and you are sitting at the TV awaiting the San Francisco 49ers third preseason NFL game when “The Star-Spangled Banner” begins to play and you notice the quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sitting down on the sideline while the rest of his teammates stand hand-over-heart. This was the scene that sparked a debate of racial inequality, protest, patriotism and First Amendment rights – questioning the place of politics in sports.
Since Kaepernick’s protest over a year ago, players, coaches, and teams all across the nation have modeled protests after Kaepernick – inciting dynamic debate. However, sitting or kneeling during the playing of the national anthem is disrespectful to America, her flag and the military members and veterans who have sacrificed their lives to serve and protect. Players should not be allowed to use their professional position in the NFL as a platform for protest.
President Woodrow Wilson ordered in 1916 that the anthem be played at all military ceremonies and occasions. When America entered World War I, Major League Baseball events entailed rituals and drills done out of reverence for the military – initiating the anthem to be played. The pre-game singing of the anthem was adopted by baseball and spread to other sports throughout World War I and World War II.
The tradition of playing the national anthem before sporting events has been a well-respected, recognized celebration of American patriotism rehearsed without opposition for decades. When players and teams choose not to stand for national anthem, they are disregarding the freedoms on which our country, her anthem and her flag stand firm. Active military members and veterans find these protests especially disrespectful because they are the ones who have sacrificed their lives so that all Americans can experience freedoms promised to them at home.
Jim Brown, former NFL player for the Cleveland Browns, values that football and activism are two different fields. Brown said: “I don't desecrate my flag and my national anthem. I'm not going to do anything against the flag and national anthem. I'm going to work within those situations. But this is my country, and I'll work out the problems, but I'll do it in an intelligent manner.”
When players choose to protest during the playing of the national anthem, fans and owners of NFL teams notice, and more oftentimes than not, it is not in a positive light. When a player kneels or sits down for the anthem a message is sent to viewers and that act of defiance is associated with the entire team. Not only does this pose an issue for the player himself, but it also affects the team on a much larger scale – tainting the image of the team for the owners, and the fans.
Kaepernick opted out of his 49ers contract in March of 2017. Despite statistical support that show his skills would otherwise land him a position on another team, he has not been made any other offers since. His decision to use his professional platform, and combine politics with protest, ended up costing himself the rest of his professional career.
The First Amendment is only protected between the government and the individual. The First Amendment does not guarantee or promise the right to speech or protest in private business or office – therefore making it fair, and justified, for a team to terminate a player for exercising his right to freedom of speech. The decision of whether or not a team should fire a protesting player is left completely up to the owner of the team.
By finding alternate methods of protest that are outside the domain of the NFL, players can still exercise their beliefs without sacrificing their professional careers and disrespecting the national anthem, the flag, military personnel and veterans. There is a place for football and there is a place for politics, but in order to achieve the most effective change, the two are better kept separate. 

Presence of Empathy  
Yogi Dorelis, a distinguished fighter pilot who did two tours in Afghanistan and five in Iraq as a helicopter pilot represents not only the military, but the normal American – not someone placed on a pedestal in the spotlight for either sports or politics.
Dorelis joins the controversial conversation with empathy by looking at the big picture. He said: “The only really un-American thing would be if people were afraid to express how they feel on either side of the argument…Feel however you want to feel about the issue, post what you want, watch what you want, get mad at what you want, but take a second to appreciate that you can do all that in this country without any fear of serious repercussions.”
There should not be discrepancy in how far we are protected by our First Amendment rights. Rather, we should revel in the fact that we live under a country and Constitution that has these rights of freedom established.

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Thumbnail Image by Keith Allison