A friend points out that NFL players’ protests during the national anthem aren’t a free-speech issue but a workplace issue. It’s an employer giving employees a directive on their options during their time at work. OK, but.…
The NFL on Wednesday said players shall either stand on the sideline during the anthem or be in the locker room. No kneeling, no visible protests. The NFL will fine violators and can punish teams that sign violators.
Fine, it’s a workplace matter, but it’s a workplace unlike any in the United States. Watching a cafeteria worker doesn’t require a $100 ticket. Action at an accountant’s cubicle isn’t televised to millions. NFL players have a unique stage on which they can share grievances, despite boos from the “shut up and play” crowd.
What’s more, NFL players work under a collective bargaining agreement with their union and the league. The NFL Players Association wasn’t consulted about the new anthem rule, which is begging for legal action the first time a player is fined.
The NFL and its owners wrap themselves inside the 100-yard-long flag (and the money that comes with it) much more than any other professional sports league. Too tightly in this case.
Instead of supporting players making legitimate protests — racial inequality and law enforcement’s treatment of minorities — the league has bowed to President Trump and an overwhelming number of fans who incorrectly think kneeling players are against the flag, the U.S. military or the country itself. Or they ignore the reason and choose to label any kneeling player un-American. (Should I mention almost all kneeling players are African-American?)
“You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there,” Trump said Thursday. “Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
How discouraging that even the president can’t see that public protests are a consequence of the anthem, the flag, the military — and the First Amendment.