The National Football League’s announced in late May that there would be a newly enacted National Anthem policy which requires players that are on the field for the anthem to stand or gives players the option to stay in the locker room.
It is widely believed that this policy change created by the NFL owners was provoked by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Last fall, then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was photographed sitting down during the National Anthem. When later asked in an interview with NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, what was his reasoning for sitting down Kaepernick cited his concern with the racial and economic injustices facing minorities in this country and specifically African-Americans. Kaepernick’s response was the start of a season-long controversial peaceful protest that gained the nation’s attention as he and several of his NFL counterparts elected to kneel for the anthem.
This new policy requires players and personnel to pay a fine if they do not stand during the National Anthem. The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), the labor organization representing the professional American football players in the NFL, was excluded from voting on the new policy.
In 1791, ten amendments were ratified to protect U.S. citizens’ rights under the newly established government system; formally known as the Bill of Rights. These rights were created to protect citizens’ natural rights and ability to freely express oneself. More specifically, the first amendment grants citizens the right to exercise their religion, freedom of speech, and freedom to peacefully assemble. That was of course until August of 2017 when Kaepernick’s protest began.
NFL players have shown their patriotism through their involvement in social activism, community service, in support of our military and law enforcement and yes, through their protests to raise awareness about the issues they care about beyond the field.
Kaepernick decided to continue to exercise his first amendment right by kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem before each game until he believed the “system” was doing something to fix the ongoing issues of police brutality as well as the African-American community suffering from oppression at the hands of the government.
It is believed that Kaepernick’s protest led to the 30-year-old’s lack of work. In March 2017, Kaepernick opted out of the final year of his contract with the 49ers. Though he expressed interest in continuing his career in the NFL, that interest has not been returned by the part of any of the other 31 NFL teams. For months, Kaepernick’s free agent status has continued.
According to a recent Forbes article, the New York Times provided proof of Trump financially threatening to harm the NFL in an October 2017 meeting. Kaepernick believes there was some slander of his reputation to influence the commissioners’ decision to keep him as a free agent, which has led to Kaepernick’s legal team subpoenaing Trump.
The new anthem policy is a violation of the players first amendment rights; it takes away the players’ voice, freedom to express themselves, and their freedom to peacefully assemble and petition, and it is therefore unconstitutional. Kaepernick risked losing his job to kneel for what he believes in and exercised his right to protest peacefully.
Athletes have a powerful platform; some of which are beginning to realize can make a big difference in the world. With the NFL stripping their right to protest for what they believe in raises the question, are we (U.S. citizens) actually free? If a national sports organization can remove players’ constitutional rights without any consequences, this could be the start of a ripple effect. A peaceful protest that began as a hope to bring awareness to police and social injustice has resulted in the NFL’s attempt to silence its players.