Photo by Jp Valery on Unsplash

The biggest headline to come out of the NFL this season has had nothing to do with the game itself. It seems that all eyes are on the national anthem, and what it means to kneel.

It started in August of 2016, when Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers remained seated during the national anthem before a game. Kaepernick stated that “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Since then, other players have followed suit and protested the anthem in similar ways. Anthem protests have sparked a conversation among Americans, have divided us into two polarized factions: those who support the protests, and those who don’t.

Those who support the protest often discuss the issue that these protests initially sought to bring to light. There is no doubt that racial inequality is still an issue in America, although some debate to what capacity. The entire notion of the “merit behind the protest” is absolutely absurd, and has nothing to do with whether a protest is valid or invalid. You can’t support one peaceful protest, yet seek to nullify another based on the content of the two. You either support free speech, or you don’t.

I implore those supporting the players protesting the national anthem to remove their own emotions from their arguments. It is just as unreasonable to argue in favor of a protest on the basis of its content as it is to silence a protest based on its content. Rather than say that ‘NFL players are trying to shed light on a legitimate social issue, and therefore they should be allowed to protest,’ make the point that ‘private organizations should empower their members to practice free speech.’ Take the content of the protest out of your argument if you want there to be any validity in it.

On the other side, there are those against the protest. The main argument that I have seen from this side is the notion that these protests are disrespectful to America, and are unpatriotic in general. The main issue with the entire argument of this side is that it is based on nothing but emotion. First, to claim that NFL players should stand for and “respect” the anthem is flawed logic to say the least. People echoing this rhetoric are essentially saying ‘the First Amendment gives you the right to peacefully protest, but if you use it to challenge my ideals you are disrespecting America.’ Again, if you use the content of a protest to decide on the acceptability of it, you are always wrong.

The second argument being made is that the players protesting and those who support them are unpatriotic. To those people, I have to ask: what makes someone a patriot? How is someone who challenges the status quo and sparks conversation around a perceived issue in society ‘unpatriotic?’ Have you forgotten about the American Revolution? I think that these people are confusing, or disguising, other emotions as patriotism to justify their position.

Finally, it is impossible to ignore Donald Trump’s role in all this. He has repeatedly shared his opinion that NFL players should stand for the national anthem. To me, his communication has reached a level that just isn’t appropriate for a government official. For the president of the United States to repeatedly attempt to influence the internal affairs of a private organization is completely backwards (tweet one) (tweet two). To me, the president using his position of power to attempt to control a private organization is the real threat to society. What’s scarier is that Trump’s disguise as a patriot is working on such a large scale. I’m not going to compare this situation to any other in history, but do some research on how most dictators come into power.

Looking at this impartially, there are two options: either you support private organizations who empower their employees to practice free speech, or you support organizations that restrict free speech when the government tells them to do so. Because understand something, if the NFL creates a rule that players must stand for the national anthem, it is because of political pressure from the Trump Administration. That scenario is just one step away from the government restricting speech based on its content, and to support such a movement is the least patriotic act imaginable. You either support peaceful protest, or you don’t. But you don’t get to hear the content of the protest before you decide.

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