The NFL has easily been America’s favorite pastime for the past couple decades. The Superbowl is by far the largest televised, most profitable sporting event every year, and its players offer the greatest athleticism and skillset in the sport around the world. We love our football, but we cannot tolerate the players we love to watch display personal opinions on the platform they built. Shut up, play football, and entertain us!
The NFL is a private corporation that is free to do what it pleases so long as it operates within the United States constitution — fair enough. When its owners voted to now sanction players with a fine for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of a flag that doesn’t represent a “land of the free and home of the brave” for millions of its marginalized citizens, it’s well within its right to do so. But what message does that send to those players and the millions of black and brown people they are kneeling for who suffer from police brutality with impunity? What message does it also send to those who wish to maintain this abhorrent status quo of bias and unmitigated prejudice that permeates our penal system, education system, and unfair employment practices? I’ll tell you what the message is to both groups: none of those issues matter; all that matters is that you players perform at a high level, entertain our country, and be quiet.
Remember when I said the NFL has a right to do anything they want as a private corporation as long as no constitutional rights are trampled on? I’m referring to the same constitution that also protects one’s right to freedom of speech. Now, before I get lambasted by those constitutional experts out there, let me explicitly say I understand the difference between one being sanctioned by their employer and one facing penalty by the government for their peaceful protest. I’m not asserting that the players’ rights are being violated — they are not. But when they take a knee to peacefully protest injustices occuring in this country they love, are they not acting within the spirit of the First Amendment? Are they not exercising their civic right — and many would argue a duty with such a large stage at their disposal — to protest in the manner the constitution encourages when they feel aggrieved? Oh, this only applies when it doesn’t infringe on our Sunday afternoon entertainment? I’m sorry, I failed to read that portion in the constitution – it must be in the fine print section of the First Amendment.
Granted, I understand with all the political backlash and public outcry from those who, frankly, are not subjected to being beaten and killed on a daily basis for the mere color of their skin, the NFL felt the pressure to do something. And they could have done many things — other than what they did last week in an attempt to silence their employees and ignore the critical issues that plague our society daily. They could have met with the players and come to a compromise to alleviate the issue. They could have partnered with the players’ initiatives to address some of the issues the players care deeply about. They could have hosted a solutions-oriented forum that included many who have an interest in the subject, then put forth some of the capital from their massive account (the commissioner makes 40 million a year!) to fund some of the smartest solutions-oriented initiatives. Instead, they ruled with the iron fist that most powerful entities do when they want to silence an “unruly bunch” who dare to make their audience or clientele uncomfortable in order to make a valid point.
I purposely did not assert whether I personally think the form of protest is agreeable, proper, or preferable — that’s not my point. I will also not entertain the argument that the players are purportedly disrespecting the military by taking a knee — I have no interest in that either. I am merely stating that what the NFL did last week in changing its policy to sanction its players for kneeling in protest during the national anthem was a contradiction of the principles it claims to uphold: inclusiveness, equality, fairness, and many more ideals that apparently are easier to espouse than to practice. Instead of acknowledging their employee’s grievances and working collaboratively with them to find solutions, it jettisoned all its supposed values and deferred to the use of punishment to suppress the First Amendment right of its players. With so many alternative options and plentiful resources at its disposal, the NFL failed to explore any of them. It failed to treat its employees like citizens; it failed to rise above the pressure from those who will oppose change at all cost; it failed to exemplify the values and principles it claims to operate under; and it failed to exercise the same leadership it expects its players to uphold on and off the field.
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