Can We Please Stop Pretending the NFL Protests Have Anything to Do with Free Speech?

Following the lead of the now unemployed Colin Kaepernick and on the heels of some fiery rhetoric from President Trump on the matter, more National Football League players than ever knelt during the National Anthem on Sunday in order to protest the institutional white racism in America that they presume exists. 

Invariably, there are the stock defenders of their actions invoking the First Amendment as an enshrined protection for their actions.  Even some unlikelier defenders, such as National Review, have framed this as a free speech issue.

To be perfectly clear, doing so is an exercise in stupidity.  The First Amendment provides Americans protection to enact displays of protest, certainly.  The question that goes continually and aggravatingly unaddressed is, protection from whom?

It would be wishful thinking, I suppose, to imagine that Americans who support the NFL protesters might take the fifteen or twenty seconds necessary to google and read the First Amendment. 

It reads:

Congress shall make no law regarding an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to peaceably assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

"Congress shall make no law."  The framers inscribed a document related to the powers and limitations of the federal government.  Therefore, it is only logical to understand that this refers to the federal Congress.  The federal Congress shall make no laws to infringe upon these rights.

So where is the federal law that outlaws kneeling during the National Anthem at a pro football game?  If there were such a law, it would run afoul of the First Amendment.  But there is no such law.

Also, I'm not aloof to the fact that judicial precedent in case law evidences a much broader interpretation of the First Amendment, suggesting that it applies to the state and local governments as well.  Even considering that broader scope raises another question: who is rushing to arrest the kneeling sports star for his violation of any such standing law at the state level?  No one.

So what has the First Amendment to do with any of this? 

Nothing.  Not one single thing.  Anyone with half a brain and thirty seconds to digest the meaning of the First Amendment should be able to understand that without difficulty.

Now let's move on and consider what these National Anthem protests actually mean.

The kneelers argue that they do not mean to disrespect the flag, or those who have fought and died for this country, or America as a whole.  Of course, their actions certainly disrespect all of those things, and suggesting otherwise should be ridiculous on its face. 

So why, exactly, are they kneeling?

Those kneeling assert that there is an epidemic of white police officers who work their beat every night with the explicit intention to murder innocent black people.  They are suggesting that there is an epidemic of institutional white racism in this country going unaddressed, and that the only way to draw attention to this, the Black Lives Matter narrative, is to kneel during the National Anthem at pro football games.

There is no convincing evidence that either claim is true, and it is a malicious narrative that has arguably already led to a death toll among police officers being targeted for their presumably widespread racism and brutality. 

The left argues that the players' demonstrations force me to recognize that this narrative exists, as if I'm not forced to recognize the existence of this narrative with the myriad protests and riots infused with this Black Lives Matter-inspired rhetoric and impetus.  They imagine that I and millions of other Americans don't accept this narrative only because it's not being adequately thrown in our faces.

I, among millions of other Americans, refuse to accept that.  I therefore find those kneeling during the National Anthem in order to advance that narrative despicable, entitled babies for whom I have no respect and who are undeserving of my financial support.   

Rush Limbaugh's comments encapsulate my feeling on this matter.  For me, it is sadness more than anger.  But the NFL has, regrettably, created these circumstances.

The aforementioned "free speech" argument touted by defenders of the NFL and the protesters fails on another front, beyond the immediate substance of the First Amendment.  That is, the NFL is quite comfortable censoring free speech, though it's unmistakable that the speech they choose to prohibit runs afoul of a leftist ideological impulse.  In 2016, the NFL threatened to fine teams who decorated their cleats with a "Never Forget" logo commemorating the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks.  They prohibited the Cowboys from wearing helmet decals honoring the five police officers killed by a Black Lives Matter advocate.

Yet while stifling this "free expression," they have no problems whatsoever with the Rams players taking the field with the "Hands up, Don't Shoot!" gesture, which was based on an entirely fictitious and dangerous narrative that led to those five Dallas police officers being slain.  And now, when players choose to disrespect the flag and our nation on the fans' time and the fans' dime to perpetuate that very same narrative, the NFL is equally conciliatory in allowing it.

And the NFL has the audacity to suggest that the current politicization in football was created by Donald Trump?  Though I don't agree with him using his platform as president to call for the firing of kneeling players or for a boycott of the NFL, these are certainly not circumstances of his design.

On Monday Night Football this week, the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals both locked arms and knelt before the National Anthem, acknowledging the protesters' position.  Then they stood and locked arms during the National Anthem.  It was a charade all too obviously meant to placate fans, while still giving a platform to espouse the dangerous and entirely untrue Black Lives Matter narrative.  "Unity" was the theme.  More "division" is what you can expect.

The most troubling thought crossing my mind?  That somewhere, Colin Kaepernick is smiling, quite pleased with himself.

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.

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