Colin Kaepernick was not the first professional athlete to refuse to stand for the national anthem. Before him came, among others, Brooklyn Dodgers player Jackie Robinson and Oakland Raiders player Marshawn Lynch, who began his silent protest while on the Seattle Seahawks. After Kaepernick, a slew of players from a variety of sports ranging from high-schoolers to professionals kneeled or linked arms in protest. In response to the widespread protest, at a rally in Alabama, President Donald Trump urged NFL owners to fire any player who does not stand because he “disrespects our flag.” NFL owners should allow kneeling and other forms of silent, nondisruptive protest during the national anthem, not only to observe players’ Constitutional rights, but to communicate an important message to the entire country.
Consistent kneeling, especially in professional sports, during the national anthem to protest police brutality and racism raises the question: do they have the right to kneel during the anthem while they are on the job? Yes, but no. The Constitution guarantees that “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise … or abridging the freedom of speech.” Kneeling during the anthem qualifies as speech, like flag-burning and political donation, which have been established by the U.S. Supreme Court. Furthermore, nowhere in any government code is made mandatory to stand. Anyone in a profession in the public eye has the same rights as any other citizen.
And yet, with a small addition to their contracts or guidelines, working people could have their right to certain acts of free speech stripped away. For instance, if the San Francisco 49ers were to insert into the players’ contracts “all members must stand during the national anthem at games,” anyone who signed would be expected to fulfill it. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to teams that “Like many of our fans, [the NFL believes] that everyone should stand for the national anthem.” Although a strong suggestion, Goodell did not go as far as to demand all members stand. Again, if he really felt it was necessary, Goodell could legally make that demand. He shouldn’t.
The president has no right to dictate how private organizations deal with their employees’ actions. In all the hubbub surrounding Trump’s remarks, little focus has been put on the message that the football players are trying to send. Kaepernick and other protesters continue to emphasize that the protest is not against the flag, nor the people who serve our country, but police brutality that has targeted black citizens.
“We came up with taking a knee because there are issues that still need to be addressed, and it was also a way to show more respect for the men and women that fight for this country,” Kaepernick said.
Trump cannot accuse protesters of disrespecting the flag when they have established that is not their goal. I’ll admit I feel foolish talking about whether these protests constitute free speech because that is exactly what Trump wants from journalists. For him, it is better than acknowledging the fact that, according to the Washington Post, 34 percent of unarmed people killed by police in 2016 were black males, despite making up only 6 percent of the population.
Refusing to recognize the racism that implies is far more disrespectful than kneeling during the anthem because of the president’s failure to address racism. The flag only stands for “liberty and justice for all” when there is actually liberty and justice for all. Pretending that the equality and freedom promised to every American in our founding documents presently exist in the U.S. can only last so long.
It’s been established; all of those people have the right to kneel. Let’s get back to the part where the president won’t condemn racism in our law enforcement system.