The NFL Just Made the Wrong Call

Tarn Bregman, Staff Reporter

On August 14, 2016, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started the famous protest of kneeling during the national anthem. Today, the same protest still divides the country and has led to a controversial, unfortunate, but somewhat understandable decision by the National Football League.

Ever since Colin Kaepernick took his knee, many players in the NFL have been kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before the beginning of a game. This has sparked many debates over civil rights, the First Amendment, and respect for the flag. But it is the NFL’s response to the issue that has shocked many, creating new arguments about the First Amendment.

Two weeks ago today, on May 23, the NFL released a policy statement from its commissioner Roger Goodell stating that players would be punished if they knelt on the field during the playing of the national anthem. However, the policy does allow for players and team personnel to stay in the locker rooms until after the playing of the anthem is over. This new policy has been seen as very controversial due to its decision to regulate the kneeling of players during the anthem. Many people believe that this policy violates players’ freedom of speech, but this is in fact not the case.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

— First Amendment, United States Constitution

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution explains that the U.S. government cannot regulate peaceful public speech, therefore protecting citizens from prosecution by any branch of U.S. government. This is why peaceful public protests, petitions, and religious gatherings are completely legal.

However, the Constitution does not protect those under contract of a private organization. The rights of the Constitution do not extend to those who are part of any private organization, business, or group. This includes all personnel hired by the NFL, the most famous of those people being the players. The NFL has the complete legal right to regulate what their players do while on the field. Kneeling during the anthem is considered a form of peaceful protest, but allowing players to kneel or stand is completely up to the NFL.

Put simply, professional football players are employees of the NFL. Players have signed lengthy and strict contracts, signing away their rights to their employer, making it legal for the NFL to mandate what its employees do.  

Personally, I do not have a huge problem with the NFL’s new policy. The policy itself regulates employee rights, similar to any contract or policy at any other place of work. I understand why the NFL created the policy; however, I think the policy is a step in the wrong direction. By having players stay in the locker room until the national anthem is over, the NFL is simply avoiding the problem of kneeling during the anthem.

Instead of speaking to players about other forms of peaceful protest, the NFL is shielding the public from the players who choose to kneel. This is an immature and unprofessional way of dealing with the situation. It is as if the NFL is saying that if you cannot see the problem, there is no problem.

By doing so the NFL avoids all confrontation that comes from speaking publicly about the beliefs of the organization. If the NFL had handled the situation better, there might have been much less controversy. As a replacement for kneeling on the field, the NFL could have more strongly encouraged other forms of peaceful protest, like through social media, a platform that connects everyone everywhere. But instead, the NFL appears to have tucked the players away in the locker room, hoping that the problem might go away. 

For players like Colin Kaepernick, who have expressed their opinions through kneeling during the anthem, there is the possibility of no future career. Colin Kaepernick recently opted out of his contract with the 49ers, making him a free agent. Although many people in the NFL believe he is a great quarterback, no team within the NFL has made any attempt to hire him. This shows the lack of support by officials when it comes to supporting the movement.

The NFL is not addressing the issue in a responsible way, creating an unfair and unwelcoming environment for players who choose to speak their minds. This is not a permanent or good solution to the ongoing protests within the league.

Creative Commons photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/keithallison/37721041581/