The Real Problem With the NFL's National Anthem Policy

"Players aren't trying to be 'disrespectful to the flag' when they kneel during the National Anthem," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during a press conference on October 18. He was responding to weeks of angry tweeting from President Donald Trump about some players' choice to kneel during "The Star-Spangled Banner" just before NFL games, which several continue to do in order to draw attention to racial injustice in this country.

But Trump tweeted his latest criticism of the league Monday morning, saying "Two dozen NFL players continue to kneel during the National Anthem, showing total disrespect to our Flag & Country. No leadership in NFL!"

Trump's latest tweet regarding the latest controversay over the NFL's position with 'taking a knee.'
Trump's latest tweet regarding the latest controversay over the NFL's position with 'taking a knee.'
Twitter

Yes, Trump, yes. These free, American citizens are allowed to demonstrate peacefully under the protection of the United States Constitution — that same document used to confirm you as the Nation's leader. One fellow tweeter, MrWizzer, replied, "Plus, the protest isn't about the damned anthem. It's about systemic racism in the police..."

A tweeter expressing his views on the NFL controvesary.
A tweeter expressing his views on the NFL controvesary.
Twitter

Also in his press conference, Goodell said "We believe everyone should stand for the National Anthem, but it won't be forcing them with any rule change." The commissioner made it clear that he had spoken with the players and that they were able to articulate their reasons for the protest, which he understood. Now, the question on most folks' minds is, "Why doesn't the rest of America?"

These players are not trying to be disrespectful to anyone who has served or is currently serving our country. In fact, they are exercising their constitutional rights that were paid for by the blood and sacrifice of our troops. The beauty of being an American in this country is that we are all born with inalienable rights.

The beauty of being free in America is the ability to protest peacefully that which displeases you without fear of recourse and backlash from the president. This is the fine line between our democracy and the dictatorship the president seems to want this country to become.

It doesn't make sense to believe in the protection of Constitutional rights with regards to the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms — especially at a moment when the Las Vegas massacre has shaken the faith of many American voters in the right to legally carry weapons — and then boo when the right to free speech is being infringed upon by the elected leader of our country.

Goodell took a moment to speak with those who are choosing to protest by kneeling and said he understands the reasoning for this form of protesting is because these players are seeking to bring social awareness to issues. When America refused to acknowledge the lynchings of African-American citizens, Colin Kaepernick did.  As much as some of the citizens of this country would like to pretend that these issues are not about race, news flash — they are.

Kaepernick — who continues to be an unsigned free agent despite being healthy and, some argue, a good pickup for teams like the Houston Texans — protested the National Anthem, not the troops, not our country or the flag. His intentions were to shed light on dark situations which have stained the very flag some continue to fly high in honor of their rights. People need to stop being so concerned with disrespecting a piece of fabric and worry more about the disrespect of their "fellow Americans."

The NFL, while trying so hard to word their statements carefully, is still implying the league is allowing these players to do this. Goodell did say during his press conference that they were working to bring the number of protests to "zero." You cannot do that.

For those who think that the NFL can force its players to stand and sympathizers like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who threatened to bench players who 'disrespected the flag,' please err on the side of caution. The NFL has an HR department and just like the rest of us who work for an employer, and cannot threaten punitive action against employees for exercising their rights as long as it's done peacefully and it does not violate the company's policy or the law.

Mural right here in Houston, reminding passers-by of one of the most important rights that each American has extended to them — freedom.EXPAND
Mural right here in Houston, reminding passers-by of one of the most important rights that each American has extended to them — freedom.
Photo by G. Paris Johnson

Houston attorney Craig Washington offered some insight to the Houston Press. "It is my belief that [penalizing players who take a knee] is an unfair labor practice," he says. "Since they have a collective bargaining agreement between the players, players association, and the league, any attempt to take any punitive action would be an unfair labor practice and the team would be in violation of the collective bargaining agreement."

To that point, the NFL's policy on posture for the National Anthem does not mandate that its players stand; rather it asks that they do so. Perhaps it's safe to say that the only time you're not allowed to demonstrate peacefully in this country is when it's not about the lynchings of unarmed African-Americans.

Maybe if people would actually realize that if you allow our democracy to operate under the auspices of a dictatorship, then you are opening a floodgate for those rights which you find comfort in to be challenged too, like protection from illegal search and seizure, the right to vote, women's suffrage, and Euro-America's favorite — the right to bear arms.

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