The NFL is not the Military: Stop Treating our Athletes like Soldiers

The NFL seems hell bent on turning their athletes into soldiers. Strict uniform and physical standards. A rigorous, train-for-battle discipline. Weekends & holidays spent away from friends & family. Random drug tests. The difference is, while the military can & does limit the First Amendment rights of members of the Armed Services, the NFL cannot do the same with athletes.

The National Football League’s support of the U.S. Military is patriotic & honorable.

In Parker v. Levy, 417 U.S. 733, 758 (1974), the US Supreme Court intimates –in what would later be dubbed the Doctrine of Military Necessity — that uniformed service members actually relinquish some of our Constitutional rights in order to maintain discipline & unity in the Chain-of-Command. For soldiers, keeping your mouth shut can be a matter of survival. Swearing an oath to the Constitution means limiting, at least in part, one’s Constitutional Rights. Neither do the NFL or franchise owners have the right to punish players for exercising theirs. To do so would be a violation of First Amendment rights. It would be unconstitutional.

The US Constitution, the US flag, & the national anthem are not the same things and should not be held in the same esteem. Regardless of how one feels about the manner in which one renders respect for the national anthem or the flag, neither would exist without the Constitution. The Constitution and the ideals it sets forth are what empowers the symbol of our flag and the lyrics of any patriotic song. The Constitution is so much more than either the flag or the national anthem. If we compromise the integrity of the Constitution in favor of the flag or the national anthem, we lose all three of them. That would turn military sacrifices into vanity.

As citizens, NFL players have every right to exercise the First Amendment without professional repercussion. Players sacrifice their bodies, compete for mental toughness, and lean into adversity just as soldiers do. General Douglas MacArthur captures this parallel in the quote all West Point plebes are required to memorize: “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.” But there is a difference between an athlete and a soldier. One can be a competitor & warrior without being a soldier. How the league responds will be a test if they know the difference.