Kneeling, Standing, First Amendment, and Football.

The National Football League has instituted a new policy for it’s players during the National Anthem, and of course the uproar over it has started again. Some are excited and happy because you should stand proudly during the Anthem, others are complaining how the players first amendment rights are being trampled on, and others are talking about how horrible it is that players are being forced to stand. I hope to separate the fact from fiction, and provide some perspective.
FACT: No player is forced to stand for the National Anthem. The NFL has lifted the rule that requires players to be on the field for the National Anthem. Protesting the flag, no matter how you feel about it, is protected speech, so forcing players to stand would constitute compelled speech, and that is wrong. Players may remain in the locker room, or similar areas, during the National Anthem. Those players on the field at the time of the anthem are required to stand. If you can not, as a matter of conscience or protest, stand for the Anthem, you need not be on the field.
FICTION: Players are having their first amendment rights taken away. NFL Players work for their team, just like many of us work for someone else, or have employees that work for us. As employees, they have rules, most of which are common to all employees everywhere. Be on time, or there are consequences. Wear your uniform. And yes, restrictions on speech. No employee has the absolute right to protest while at work. Employee speech can be, and is, restricted, on the job. We seem to be treating this situation as if it is different than any other job, and that is why there is so much misunderstanding around it.
FACT: The NFL, more properly the individual teams that belong to the trade organization known as the NFL, is a business. Just like any business, it markets itself to the target audience in the hopes of making a profit. Last year there was a significant drop in viewership. The market research showed that it had a lot to do with the uproar over the National Anthem. Like any good business, when the bottom line is negatively impacted, steps are taken to change the issues that are adversely affecting the bottom line. That’s pretty much universal. Also like any business, employees, while on the clock, have to follow the rules. In most places that means the employee manual/handbook. In the NFL, that book is called the operations manual.
FICTION: This is an attempt to silence players and take attention away from issues that concern them. This is not at all the truth. Listening to the players, the NFL has invested in partnerships with numerous charities and advocacy organizations to try and address the concerns that players have. It would be accurate to say that they are trying to put the attention on football while the game is on though, and since that is their business, it makes sense.
At the end of this, the simple truth is that this is a business that has employees. Employees are expected to represent the business well, with in the law. No player or employee is required to be on the field for the National Anthem, but those who choose to be are expected to represent the business in a manner that is acceptable. That is not fundamentally different from any other job, so we really need to stop treating it like it is.

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10 Replies to “Kneeling, Standing, First Amendment, and Football.”

  1. Fact: The rule was not even determined by the votes of the NFL owners, but the projection of what those owners would vote for as determined by the NFL commissioner, if memory serves.

    Fact: It robs a chance for players to protest. Staying in the locker room during the playing of the National Anthem is ambiguous. It doesn’t signal anything specific because there are multiple reasons why someone would remain in the locker room. Kneeling or sitting during the playing of the National Anthem is a sign of protest. So therefore, the rule does deny players an instance of their right to free speech and to express grievances.

    Finally, arguing that players should be prohibited from protesting during the National Anthem because of the needs of the business for which they work only confirms the ties Martin Luther King Jr. made between being a thing-oriented society and racism, among other problems (see ):

    I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

    Please note the priorities that the above article assigns to racism and profits. When speech against racism interferes with profits, then the business has a right to prohibit such speech because profits are more important than opposing racism. That suggests that racism seems to be less offensive to NFL customers than kneeling during the National Anthem.

    1. Since MLK was reference, I will use it as an opportunity to display the total divide in network reporting today. Fox News gets slammed constantly by liberals as only presenting fake news and conspiracy theories. And the people that watch it, and maybe voted for Trump, including Evangelicals, as totally unstable. Meanwhile, MSNBC fails to report anything (almost, anyway), positive about Republican voters, Trump supporters, or evangelicals. And connecting Trump to the source of all evil.

      As an example on MSNBC, the comment, “Does the NFL think their fans are only white, and only conservative?”:

      MSNBC thinks Trump is responsible for the NFL controversy. Maybe so, but Trump is allowed to express his opinion like anyone else.

      On a more important subject, Russian collusion.

      Liberals think Fox News is into conspiracies, because they report on Justice Department wrong-doing. Yet MSNBC thinks Trump beat Clinton by collusion with Russians.

      MSNBC thinks Loretta Lynch, the FBI, James Comey and James Clapper, are so trustworthy, no one should ever question their motivations. Looks like the FBI under Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover, did the same thing to MLK in the sixties, because they suspect ties to Russians. Seems like history repeats itself.

      “FBI director J. Edgar Hoover was personally hostile toward King, believing that the civil rights leader was influenced by Communists. This animosity increased after April 1964, when King called the FBI “completely ineffectual in resolving the continued mayhem and brutality inflicted upon the Negro in the deep South” (King, 23 April 1964). Under the FBI’s domestic counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO) King was subjected to various kinds of FBI surveillance…”

      “In February 1962, Hoover told Attorney General Robert Kennedy that Stanley Levison, one of King’s closest advisors, was “a secret member of the Communist Party” (Hoover, 14 February 1962). In the following months, Hoover deployed agents to find subversive material on King, and Robert Kennedy authorized wiretaps on King’s home and Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) offices in October 1963.”

      So, MSNBC ought to recognize real conspiracies – Lynch, Comey, and Clapper. Not phony conspiracies, like Trump, Russia, and NFL owners, all conspiring against the poor little liberals, and their failed Clinton Utopia. Last time I checked, NFL was entertainment. I watch it for entertainment, not to make a social statement.

      Fox is biased. But so is CNN and MSNBC.

      1. I really don’t care about the different news media outlets. It’s material to the issue here. Nor is Hoover’s suspicions of, and you forgot actions against, King. Suffice it to say that many Jim Crow supporters back then believed that integration was communism showing that the label ‘Communist’ had become nothing more than pejorative. comments

        As for the rest of your comment, I prefer to use the parable of the two men praying as a guide. Any group or ideology that demonizes others whether that group is conservative, liberal, or leftist is playing the role of the pharisee. And things don’t end well for the pharisee.

        1. “I really don’t care about the different news media outlets. It’s material to the issue here”.
          You should care. If the liberal and conservative news outlets didn’t spin up the issue and make it political, and chose up sides, this would have been kept on the sport pages, and no one would care. As in the two men praying, if the news outlets weren’t standing on the street corner, yelling in pain, suffering, and crying about poor little millionaire football players not being able to kneel on the job, this issue would have been a non-issue.

  2. Point one: ESPN reports that the owners unanimously agreed to the policy. “NFL owners have unanimously approved a new national anthem policy that requires players to stand if they are on the field during the performance but gives them the option to remain in the locker room if they prefer, it was announced Wednesday.” If that reporting is flawed, I am unaware and welcome any source that gives evidence otherwise. (
    As for the rest, you win the award for calling the most people racist today. Congratulations. The NFL, in conjunction with it’s players, agreed to 90 million dollars in funding to combat social inequality. ( No, that is not going to fix everything, but yes, it is an attempt to try to do some good.
    As for the racist tripe, you win the award for calling the most people racist today. Hope you get something for that. Having clicked on your name and reading a bit about you, I am not shocked that you don’t care for capitalism as you are an admitted socialist. I mention this only so that others reading this have some context for your comments. No one has the right to protest while at work. It’s not denying you the ability to protest, it’s saying that you can not do it while you are at work. NFL athletes have incredible access to media outlets to say whatever it is that they feel the need to and also the same ability that you and I have to protest, peacefully, when not at work. Again, you win the prize for calling the most people racist today. It’s not true, but you managed to do it. Peace.

    1. Point #1: the NFL owners did not formally vote on the rule changes. The source? ESPN’s Seth Wickersham who reported that League Execs formulated the rule based on what they believed that the owners wanted (see and ).

      And considering that I didn’t call anyone a racist and that my leaning toward Socialism has nothing to do with the facts and logic involved in the this issue, I don’t see how the rest of your comment adds to the discussion. BTW, like Capitalism, Socialism is not a monolith. So without going into detail regard what my Socialist beliefs are, even that label does not add to your point.

      And again, that you believe that no one has a right to protest regardless of the reason at work just reinforces King’s point. BTW, he was a Socialist too but not the kind you would expect him to be.

      What remains unexplained is your anger at players’ kneeling during the National Anthem. Why does that anger you so much?

      1. Thank you for the source. I was unaware that was the case. I will point out though that the owners were polled and it was known how they would vote, but no, there was not a formal vote.
        You spent the majority of your time talking about this describing how it was all about racism. Not sure how that is not, at the very least, implying racism.
        Your leaning toward socialism has a great deal to do with this. You are complaining about basic free market economics and market forces…which is incredibly odd since you claim to like capitalism. Your concept of what are rights, etc. are very different than the founders of the nation, and the constitution of the nation. This is very relevant to the topic and conversation. For the topic at hand, if basic contract law, which covers employee/employer relationships, is somehow a violation of what you perceive as “rights”, so be it. The founding documents and legal structure of the country disagree with you, not to mention me. When you represent a business by working for it, yes, the business can limit your speech. It’s been going on for as long as there have been businesses in the Western world. As an aside, socialism has the basic defining quality of having the means of production, distribution, and exchanged owned and/or regulated by the community as a whole. (Thanks OED) That is directly contrary to capitalism. If that is not what you mean, perhaps you should use a better term.
        I’m not angry at players kneeling for the Anthem. Frankly, it doesn’t bother me in any meaningful way. Yes, I do find it disrespectful, but I find it disrespectful that the camera men are running all over, that people in the stands are not standing, etc. That said, it is not anger and frankly I don’t care what they do as it is beyond my control. I do care about accuracy, and there has been a lot of misinformation about what is and is not a part of the rule.
        As to facts, you have not presented any. You have presented opinions which are hardly objective, making the exception for the news report that you posted which I was not aware of. Thank you again.
        You are of course free to continue responding, but there will be no further reply from me as I have said my peace. Good day and blessings to you sir.

        1. Scott,
          The protests are about racism. The actions of the NFL owners is at least about business and possibly other factors. So what we have here is a weighing of interests and concerns.

          And no, my leaning toward socialism has nothing to with this. Many people who have previously engaged in boycotts have been Capitalists. We should note that like Socialism, Capitalism is not a monolith.

          Our discussion isn’t about the free market, it is about the weighing of concerns. People can support the players without being socialists because they support the players in using their platform to raise awareness of our nation’s problems with racism especially as it occurs in law enforcement.

          BTW, I don’t claim to like Capitalism. What I do claim is that we need hybrid economic structures so as to raise the decision making power of the workers without allowing them to dominate and silence the voice of owners. I agree with much of Marx’s criticisms of Capitalism. I struggle with some of his solutions such as the proletariat dictatorship.

          Finally, I surprised that what you have raised about contract law neglects to mention the ongoing efforts by the players to determine if the new anti-kneeling rules and how they were passed violates the agreement with the players. In addition, to that, many effective peaceful protests have included civil disobedience and that would be translated into this current discussion as breaking the agreement in order to raise awareness of the racial problems we have in this nation. And what occurs to me is that those racial problems are far more real to players who had to grow up with them than to those of us who didn’t suffer from race-based law enforcement. And thus, NFL owners have a choice to either follow with the consequences of those contract violations to allow players to draw adequate attention to the problems with racism in our nation or to look after their own interests.

          And, btw, again, Socialism is like Capitalism in that neither one are monoliths. Your definition of Socialism doesn’t scratch the surface especially because of the ambiguity of one of your references..

  3. Professional sports figures, like all U.S. Citizens, have the right to protest real or imagined societal ills. Even so, the protestors are employees and subject to the legal strictures of the contracts they sign. While professional sports figures do have the right to protest, I also have the right to pay them no attention whatsoever, in keeping with my distain for professional football and basketball. If the protesting players think their protests will move the country in a certain way, the protestors arguably have miscalculated based upon the plethora of negative comments about the protests. Under no circumstances should anyone believe I condone racism. If the protests are about racism, how did this discussion devolve into a thrust and parry about Capitalism vs Socialism? I suspect each political system has about the same percentage of racist adherents.

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