As football season begins anew, we are again focused on the players “taking a knee” during the national anthem. President Trump tweeted this week-end that football players who kneel during the anthem should be thrown off the field. In May, the NFL said all players who did not wish to stand for the anthem could remain in the locker room without consequence.
As I watched this debate last season and last week, it seems to me that everyone, but the NFL players, have forgotten that the First Amendment of the Constitution grants the players freedom of expression and the right to petition their government. By taking a knee, during the anthem, they are petitioning their government to take notice of an issue about which they feel strongly. That is their right as citizens of the United States.
While the NFL and Trump worry about ratings, they have forgotten one of the cornerstones of our country’s values–the right to free speech. When they take a knee, the players are peacefully drawing attention to their issue and asking to be heard. They are not interfering with the game and they are doing the job they are paid to do when they are on the field.
According to the NFL and Trump, football ratings are down. They attribute this to the players taking a knee. If this is true, then the viewers are also exercising their right to express their perspective by turning off the game. Again, this is their right as citizens of the United States. If the NFL decides to institute a policy that limits their players’ right to protest, it would be in violation of the players’ rights–and the Constitution. People might argue that the players are employees and have to follow the policies of their employers. Employers’ policies, however, cannot supersede the rights granted by the Constitution.
No matter the issue, we need to support the rights of other citizens to protest. If we allow the president and the NFL to limit the rights of players, we have opened the door to limiting our rights as well.