By Kaitlin Principato
In light of Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem on August 14, 2016, athletes across the world have continued this wave of demonstration beginning with young athletes in high school. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Kaepernick said. Although Kaepernick has sparked intense media attention, this isn’t the first time the world has seen a protest in this manner.
During the 1968 Olympics, in Melbourne Australia, two African-American medalists, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists while standing on the podium. Viewers and other participants of this Olympic game were outraged by their actions, causing Smith and Carlos’ repercussions to prohibit them from further competition and removal from the Olympic Village.
Now similar protests are spreading to the international stage as German soccer team Hertha Berlin knelt in solidarity with NFL players protesting police brutality and social injustice within the US.
Now that the NFL is trying to expand the league overseas, teams have been playing several games in London. During a game, players stood up quietly while respecting Britain’s “God Save the Queen.” However, when the national anthem played, players knelt and locked arms. This small difference in gesture sent a clear messages to all sport fans both in London as well as the United States.
The NFL serves as a primary entertainment source for military personnel across the world. Soldiers watching this game, only 3,000 miles away in Afghanistan, were appalled and heartbroken to see Americans disrespecting the flag, on foreign soil, that they vigorously fight to defend.
As this movement continues to gain momentum, the question becomes, is it appropriate for employees, in a private work sector, to air their beliefs in this forum? Employees, as well as many employers, commonly but mistakenly believe that the First Amendment to the US Constitution guarantees “freedom of speech” in the workplace. In fact, the First Amendment applies only to government action, which neither limits the rights of private employers to regulate employee’s’ speech nor does it provide any constitutional right for workers to express thoughts or opinions at work. In short, “free speech” is not constitutionally protected in the workplace of private employers.
For professional athletes, using the field as a political platform is not respectable. The League should not allow these protests to continue on the field considering post 9/11 New York football teams wanted to honor fallen victims on their jersey but were forbidden to do so by the League. Similarly, after five police officers were brutally killed in Dallas, Cowboys players wanted to honor them in the same fashion but were also struck down. If players refuse to stand for the national anthem, they should be told to stay in the locker room during this time. If patriotic pro-American demonstrations cannot be performed on the field, why should kneeling for the anthem?
Since the escalation of these protests, stadiums have not been able to fill, ratings have decreased, and advertisers are hesitant to show support. At this rate, the economics of the NFL will inevitably reduce profits. A survey conducted by Remington Research group showed nearly 66 percent of Americans say NFL players should stand for the national anthem and 51 percent say they are watching less football than in previous years.
Although athletes of all levels have joined the movement to spread awareness on social injustice within the country, using the NFL as their political stage is not the appropriate outlet. The hypocrisy of their decision to allow certain forms of speech in the “workplace” and not others will, almost certainly lead to the demise of the NFL, sets a dangerous precedent for all private employers and will not accomplish the awareness of issues these players seek. All while the rest of the world watches.