They have the right to kneel

Jordan Kirby, Staff Writer

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Limits on the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment have been a talking point for as long as I can remember. One of the more divisive discussions stems from what some consider anti-patriotic acts of expression, such as removing the American flag, burning the flag and kneeling during the national anthem.

In her book titled “The Friends of Voltaire,” Evelyn Beatrice Hall said, “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Most people I have come across say some version of this statement in defense of the NFL players. However, when they’re pressed to explain which “right” they are talking about, they usually say the right of free speech or the right to protest.

Jeffrey Toobin, a staff writer for “The New Yorker,” compared the current debate in the NFL to the “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette” court case in his recent article titled “Colin Kaepernick and a Landmark Supreme Court Case.” The Supreme Court ruled in favor of children who were punished for refusing to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school on the basis of religious conviction. Toobin makes the claim that the NFL, like public schools, should not force Americans to take part in patriotic ceremonies against their will.

The legal precedent set by “West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette” does not readily lend itself to protests in the NFL. As a private organization, the NFL is not legally required to uphold its employees’ rights to free speech or protest. Private companies and organizations are allowed to censor content when deemed necessary. In some instances, organizations are allowed to fire employees on the basis of being poor role models.

The freedom to dismiss employees on these terms is necessary to prevent organizations from losing credibility in their values and mission statements. Some jobs require employees to exemplify certain convictions or behaviors. According to the NFL’s standard player contract, a player must conduct his behavior with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect. Essentially, players must maintain public respect. In this light, President Donald Trump’s calls to fire NFL players for protesting the national anthem are far more significant than many believe. If Trump manages to swing public opinion on the issue, the NFL’s legal basis for firing players, per the NFL’s standard player contract, would most likely be accepted.

Commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell released a statement denouncing Trump’s divisive comments. DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association, tweeted that the organization intends to protect players’ constitutional rights. Contractually, however, Americans hold at least some power to determine the ability of the NFL players to protest.

Therefore, if you really want to defend an NFL player’s right to protest and speak out, go watch games, send out tweets of support and do what you can to show that the NFL is respected since the organization is protecting constitutional rights. I know I certainly will.

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