By Justin Sweitzer
In recent weeks, no issue has been more divisive in America than whether athletes in the National Football League should be allowed to kneel during the national anthem. Demonstrations during the national anthem began after former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling to raise awareness about race relations and police brutality in America.
Kaepernick’s actions were met with both praise and hostility. Some lauded him for using his platform to raise awareness for serious issues, while others called his demonstrations disrespectful to servicemen and women in the United States military.
These actions have spread across the league, with players now kneeling, raising their fists and locking arms to show solidarity with Kaepernick’s cause.
Following a statement from President Donald Trump calling for NFL players to be fired for kneeling during the anthem, the issue of professional athletes and their right to exercise their First Amendment has taken on a new importance.
Disgruntled fans who side with the president have also called for players to be punished for their actions. They have also threatened boycotts of NFL games. Punishments for such actions are left to the discretion of the NFL and team owners. But just as these people and the president have the right to voice their opinion about the controversial issue of these athlete demonstrations, these athletes also have the right to express their own thoughts and ideas in whatever ways they choose.
The NFL Players Association, the union representing NFL players, came out in support of the right of athletes to express themselves on the field in a statement released on Oct. 9.
“NFL players are union members and part of the labor movement that has woven the fabric of America for generations. Our men and their families are also conscientious Americans who continue to be forces for good through our communities and some have decided to use their platform to peacefully raise awareness to issues that deserve attention,” the statement reads.
“We should not stifle these discussions and cannot allow our rights to become subservient to the very opinions our Constitution protects. That is what makes us the land of the free and home of the brave.”
The NFL also released a statement on the same day, announcing that the league has no intention of mandating players to stand for the national anthem. Commissioner Roger Goodell said that players “should” stand for the anthem, but said that the focus should be on addressing the social issues that are motivating their protests.
While the NFL has often bungled various cases with significant social impacts–the Ray Rice domestic violence incident is a perfect example–the league does realize what’s at stake here. While the protests may be a showing of disrespect for some, the NFL is standing behind their players and supporting the rights that are guaranteed in one of the Constitution’s most significant promises.