What started out as one man’s act of rebellion against a country that supported his success, has ballooned into the biggest political debate of the year. It might seem sad that it took football to get so many Americans paying attention to the difficult issues of the day, but better late than never.
The protest of the National Anthem that is being put on by the players of the National Football League reminds many of a rebellious teenager who yells at his mom and dad and stalks out to his Range Rover to go blow some more of his trust fund. The ungratefulness and disrespect that should come standard to anyone who has done as well for themselves as these players have are blatantly absent, and it’s not a good look on them.
The question that many want to be answered is whether or not their protest is really constitutional. If it’s a constitutional right to protest, then they can’t be benched or fired or anything else for doing it. But, if it’s not, the players face a future where their livelihood hangs on whether they lose their bosses’ money.
Attorney and constitutional law expert, Alan Dershowitz knows more about the founding of this country than most of us. He opened up about what he believes to be the legal ramifications of this protest. According to an interview reported on by the Washington Examiner that Dershowitz gave on Sunday to New York’s 970 AM radio station, these players only have the rights given to them by their employers.
He said “The players are entitled to kneel if the owners allow them to. Now the owners could say ‘no’ because the players don’t have a First Amendment right in relation to the owners. They only have a First Amendment right in relation to the government.” Despite his personal disagreement with the protesting of the National Anthem, according to him, this is the First Amendment “working well” in the NFL, because “both sides are being heard.”
In other words, these players are allowed to do exactly as much as their bosses say that they can do. No one coerced them into taking their jobs, they signed on of their own free will, and as long as what the boss is telling them to do is legal, they must comply. As far as anyone knows, it’s not illegal to make a person stand for the anthem just yet.
If it’s still unclear, let’s imagine this problem in a retail setting. Picture, if you will, that you’re the owner of a shop and one of your employees has a huge problem with anyone wearing the color green. Maybe it’s a childhood trauma or maybe they’re just jerks, but either way, every time a customer comes in wearing the color green they flip them off.
Technically, flipping people off isn’t illegal, so they should be allowed to do it, right? No, while they’re wearing your store logo and representing your business, they must keep their aversion to the color green to themselves, because it’s your business and you don’t want to run people off. If that same employee wants to flip people off on their way home, that, you can’t stop them from.
While that’s an extremely simplistic explanation, the principles still apply; if the business owner allows the players to protest, they can. If the owners say “not on the clock” than the players have to stop. Or they can quit their jobs and find employment elsewhere.
Dershowitz did have a few things to say about free speech elsewhere though. According to him, the First Amendment isn’t in fine form on college campuses across the country.
“Most college students are just a bunch of selfish spoiled brats when it comes to this issue: ‘Free speech for me but not for thee,’” Dershowitz said. He has had some first-hand experience with that attitude, citing his experience of being “shouted down” whenever he spoke on behalf of Israel despite the fact that he supports the two-state solution.
“They are the first ones who want free speech for themselves, but they don’t want free speech for anyone they disagree with. That’s not the way it works,” he continued. “The Constitution doesn’t distinguish between good speech and bad speech.”
The idea that we can tout free speech when it comes to topics that we think are worthy, but not when we disagree with them, flies in the face of what freedom of speech really is. Let’s be honest, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and all other freedoms mean that it’s the freedom to be wrong. If we were required to be right, there would have to be someone parsing out right from wrong and handing it down to us, and that’s exactly what America was founded to get away from.
If history has taught us nothing else, we should take away from it that we, as a society, should always be learning, and that can only happen if we’re given the freedom to be wrong. That being said, we also have the freedom to not financially support the wrong we see in others, which is what Americans have decided to do to the NFL. Thankfully we live in a nation where that is still allowed, and it’s still effective.