Many of you give generously of your time and money to various community activities. You also deeply desire to help our country live up to our lofty ideals of peace, justice, and opportunity. Thank you for your efforts and for caring.
The decision that some of you have made to kneel during the playing of our national anthem has sown confusion, in addition to controversy. The following remarks are an attempt to bring clarity to several important aspects of this issue.
First: Constitutional Rights
If the National Football League (NFL) or a team owner requires you to stand for the anthem, this isn’t a violation of your constitutional right to free speech. Our precious First Amendment stipulates: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press …” Since it isn’t Congress that is requiring you to stand during the anthem, the First Amendment doesn’t apply here.
Second: Owners’ Rights and Employees’ Obligations
The NFL and the team owners—private employers—are the ones requiring that you, their employees, stand for the anthem. There is no constitutional right to have a job where the employer must provide a public platform for employees to express their personal grievances. On the contrary, employers have a right to establish guidelines for what is permissible behavior during working hours.
The requirement that you stand for the national anthem is no different than the board of trustees of my college insisting that we professors wear silly caps and gowns, march in an orderly procession, and remain seated during official ceremonies such as convocation and commencement.
Third: Uniforms and Uniformity
The purpose of a uniform is to outwardly manifest uniformity—the merging of individuality into one common purpose. When some players kneel and others stand, the appearance of uniformity is gone, it looks sloppy, and you don’t look like a team.
Obviously, the 46 players dressed for your team on game day don’t all share the same beliefs, perceptions, and priorities in their private lives, but why call attention to that right before kickoff? That is a crucial time when all teammates should be of one mind.
Your teammates who stand may respect your desire to protest, but I’m sure it makes some of them inwardly sad when you won’t stand for the national anthem.
Fourth: Some Practical Considerations
Who decides which issue(s) of the many possible choices are to be protested? What if a born-again Christian on your team wants to protest abortion? What if one of them took my economics course and wanted to protest the cruel injustice of burdening our country’s youth with tens of trillions of dollars of debt and obligations? And how can you tell when protests are no longer needed?
There is a basic problem here: If we use the national anthem as an occasion to protest because something isn’t right yet, the protests will never end, because there will always be problems in a society comprised of imperfect human beings.
Fifth: Counterproductive Results
Do anthem protests help or hurt your cause? Look at last year’s attendance figures and TV ratings. Your anthem protests have caused many Americans who would be naturally inclined to support your campaign for justice to permanently tune out you, the NFL, and your social messages.
Those you have alienated include:
1. Those veterans (many, but not all) who, while supporting your right to protest on your own time, deeply resent you kneeling when the flag that some of their friends died for is being honored by the playing of the national anthem;
2. Many police officers and their friends and families who resent being portrayed as animals because some of their colleagues committed wrongs;
3. Some moms, upset that their kids started fighting before a pee-wee football game when some of the boys mimicked you by kneeling during the anthem, who have now banned watching NFL football games in their homes;
4. Those fans whose greatest joy in the week used to be going to a football game to forget about personal and social problems for a few hours, when fans of all political persuasions could stand or sit side-by-side in friendly fellowship, united in support of their favorite team.
A football game was one of our last refuges—a refreshing oasis—from the political polarization that has seeped into so many areas of our lives. The anthem protests have deprived people of that oasis, and some have turned their backs on you as a result. Depriving innocent people of joy does nothing to bring more justice to our society.
Sixth: Your Right of Conscience
The NFL’s anthem policy this year (clearly unenforced) allows players to remain in the locker room if they can’t in good conscience stand for the anthem. They didn’t have to do this.
The 1940 Supreme Court decision Minersville School District v. Gobitis exempted those with certain religious convictions from having to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. It didn’t provide an exemption for people who were upset about something, but the NFL owners, out of respect for your conscience, magnanimously provided an “out” for those who would resent having to stand for the anthem.
Seventh: Your Aim
Although most of you don’t mean it this way, it looks to many like you are protesting the flag—the symbol of our ideals—when your real complaint is with the failure of certain individuals to live up to those ideals. The Stars and Stripes isn’t responsible for individual shortcomings and wrongs, so why make the flag look like a target?
Eighth: The Matter of Timing
As football players, you all understand how crucial timing is to the success of a play. Timing is just as important when it comes to addressing problems. By choosing the playing of the national anthem as a time of protest, you have achieved the counterproductive result of upsetting fans who otherwise would be receptive to your message.
The book of Ecclesiastes tells us: “To every thing there is a season” (Eccl. 3:1). Couldn’t that mean today that there is a time for gratitude, a time for protest, a time for football, and a time to work for a better America?
Ninth: Is the Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?
You have legitimate concerns about very real problems. Our country has never yet completely lived up to our lofty and noble ideals, and we need to keep working on it. But there is more freedom and prosperity here than most people in the world’s history have even dreamed of.
Most importantly, there is something of paramount importance that unites all of us Americans: While we have not yet come close to solving all our country’s problems, we are blessed to have the freedom to work toward our worthy goals.
That is what our veterans fought and died for. That is what Old Glory symbolizes. So when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played, can’t we stand together in gratitude for the freedom we all have to make a difference? Can’t we celebrate the positive, can-do spirit that has always made America great?
Wishing all of you an injury-free season and progress in your careers,
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.