NFL Players Taking a Knee- And What to do About It
Without question, the NFL players and professional athletes who are kneeling and sitting during the playing of the national anthem have every right to do so. What is in question is the reason so many people complain about the players’ disrespect for the country, yet continue to fill the stadiums in which they perform. Or watch the kneeling and the games that follow on television. By so doing, they are being complicit in the disrespect to which they object.
To paraphrase a line from the movie The American President, “America isn’t easy. You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge the rights of a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.”
The point that is often missed amidst the conflict between free speech and desired speech is, to quote another phrase, “Freedom is never free.” While the First Amendment of The Constitution guarantees that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”, it does not guarantee that that freedom of speech is without consequences.
Many a person who exercised his or her right to freedom of speech and expression, paid social or legal consequences. That doesn’t imply that the position they were advocating was wrong, only that there are consequences.
Clueless about the “protest”
The issue with the NFL players is that most truly have no idea of what they are protesting. Colin Kaepernick, the original kneeler, “took a knee” as a means of protesting “a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Yet in interview after interview, numerous players have stated that they were kneeling to support their teammates, or exercising their rights- in essence, ‘I have a right to protest, even if I don’t know what I’m protesting.’
Chargers’ defensive end Chris McCain stated that he didn’t take a knee to disrespect the flag or to stick a middle finger at the flag, but that he was simply exercising his First Amendment rights. Brandon Cooks of the Patriots stated, “It’s one of those things where you want to stand with your brothers, kneel with your brothers, and be by their side.”
Do these guys even know what they’re protesting? Are they actually protesting, or simply going along with a movement that generates publicity?
The NFL’s Irrational standards
In a sense, the answers to those questions are irrelevant. The players have a right to protest, and they are exercising it. And apparently, many team owners and coaches support their players’ rights. As does commissioner Roger Goodell, the Kim Jong Un of the NFL. (Not the rocket man part, the irrational dictator part.) Last year, Goodell and company threatened to fine players if they wore cleats honoring the victims of the 9/11 attacks.
People who find the kneel-in-protest movement to be objectionable have largely countered with a post-on-social media movement. The social media warriors are exercising the same freedom of expression as the kneeling players. But as with the kneelers, the social media counter-protest lacks proper focus and definition.
If the NFL players are truly concerned about social injustice, they need to address the issue off the field, with efforts to bring positive change. And if the people upset by the players’ protests are to be effective, they need to shift their efforts from criticizing the players, to supporting an effective protest of the actions they find objectionable.
That means abandoning any type of support for the NFL, or any other organization that sanctions conduct they consider disrespectful to our nation. Simply posting outrage on Facebook or Twitter, about players disrespecting the anthem and the nation it represents, is the equivalent of fighting a raging fire with a squirt gun.
As previously stated, America isn’t easy. Much of what makes it difficult is the exercising of the freedoms enumerated in our Constitution. In the case of athletes kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the issue isn’t that they are kneeling, the issue is that the too many people who disagree with the tactic are simply talking, rather than putting their words into action.