Do NFL players ACTUALLY have a right to protest the National Anthem?
“Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech.”
The First Amendment is intended to secure our God-given right to express our opinions, thoughts, beliefs, grievances, and passions without restraint. However, the fad of kneeling during the national anthem illustrates our nation’s misunderstanding of the First Amendment.
The freedom to express ourselves without restraint should be seen as a priceless and sacred right, and we’re blessed that our founding fathers wanted to secure that right for us. But what does the First Amendment actually secure?
This next sentence might be shocking for you, so buckle up. When you are representing the company you work for, you partially surrender your first amendment right. Let me explain.
Can my employer limit or restrict my freedom of expression? Is this fair? Does this make sense? Do organizations and corporate entities have their own rights to freedom of expression?
I manage the social media accounts for the company I work for. Let’s say tomorrow morning I decide to wake up and post a video selfie of me on the company’s Instagram. I start off by saying how much I hate Donald Trump, aka “Donald Hitler.” I then start ranting about how every member of the NRA should face a firing squad and close with a long string of expletives. Do I have a RIGHT to do that?
The answer lies in this principle: the first amendment guarantees us the freedom of speech without restraint from the government. It does not guarantee us the freedom of speech without restraint from our employer (generally speaking).
The company I work for would be perfectly justified in censuring me, firing me, or, in other words, restraining me. I agreed to its terms of employment when I came on board. Get it yet?
When a player is accepted into the NFL and begins playing, surely they agree to play and act by certain codes of conduct. Further, the teams agree to operate games based on certain rules. The NFL game operations manual states:
“The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
The NFL clearly outlines how its players are expected to act during the national anthem. If you don’t like it, try the Arena Football League! Move to Canada!
The fact of the matter is that the teams of the NFL have a right to determine how they want their employees to conduct themselves. Further, if those teams want to participate in the NFL, the NFL has a right to dictate how a team’s employees conduct themselves as well.
As a Conservative, I believe strongly in the first amendment. I also believe that employers have the right to pursue their own self interest. If your conduct is not inline with the interests of your employer, than that employer should have the right to discipline or terminate you. Period.
So, do NFL players actually have a right to kneel during the national anthem? Do they have a right to conduct or express themselves in any way that they want to? Honestly, not really. If they want to keep their jobs at least.