Should the president take a stand against players and uninvite them to the White House?

Last season, an NFL player took a knee during the National Anthem in order to bring attention to issues of race. The nation, including the president, reacted by protesting the protest, not only refusing to attend to the issues over which the protest began but also refusing to hear them.

Issues related to racial discrimination versus patriotism.

Kneeling versus standing with “hand on heart.”

Feeling oppressed versus feeling insulted.

The freedom to protest versus the need to conform to social mores.

The Philadelphia Eagles won the Superbowl last year, and were invited to the White House by President Trump to celebrate–as per tradition. Too many Eagles players refused to go and Trump disinvited them, bringing the anger and the debate back to the front pages.

Should the president have made that move?

Let’s talk.

President Trump made the right move to disinvite the players.

the rule is appropriate; why not reinforce it

The National Basketball Association has the rule that players must stand during the national anthem, and players have followed it, finding other avenues for political commentary.

“I think the point I was trying to make a couple of weeks ago is that the NBA has always been very much a partner with the players and the union on this issue and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve gone through this together and there haven’t really been any issues in the NBA,” Steve Kerr, Golden State Warriors coach said. “Players are very socially active and teams and management and the league itself are very supportive not only of community service, of course, but political commentary. It’s just a partnership. That’s the point I was making compared to the NFL.”

fans

Fans pay an average of $172 per ticket in order to be entertained, not to be politically challenged or engaged.

Last fall, the NY Post reported that 30% of NFL fans were watching less football last season, and more than half blamed players protesting racism by kneeling during the national anthem, according to the Seton Hall Sports Poll, conducted by The Sharkey Institute.

Of those watching fewer games, 52 percent said it was because they disagreed with the protests.

first amendment

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

The first amendment doesn’t apply to private business.

NFL teams are private companies, which means they can set their own rules (with some exceptions). The players can be subject to discipline or termination as employees if they don’t follow league rules.

Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of Berkeley Law and a constitutional law expert explains, “Private employers can fire employees for their speech without having to worry about the First Amendment.”

Eugene Volokh, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law adds that some states have additional laws that protect the political speech of the employees of private companies. This could apply to the teams of those states but, without legal precedence, it’s not clear how courts will react to the laws.

President Trump should not have uninvited the Eagles.

the Eagles didn’t kneel

President Trump made it clear he believed the players who planned not to attend the ceremony at the White House were doing so because of his stance on the kneeling during the anthem. For him, it was about the anthem protest. Yet, none of the Eagles knelt during the anthem or stayed in the locker room last year.

President Trump’s comments might have crossed the constitutional line last year

The president’s threats over the protest may have crossed the line last year

President Trump, in a tweet-rage over the anthem protests, questioned why the NFL received tax breaks. Change tax law! he tweeted.

While the president is allowed to express his views over the issue, he can’t threaten government action.

“Although the issue isn’t clear cut, I would bet that the Court would view the expression of the President’s views as protected First Amendment speech, as long as he doesn’t back it up with the threat of an exercise of government power,” one expert wrote.

Marc Edelman, professor of sports law at Baruch College in New York, said that the president’s talk about tax retaliation probably crossed the the legal line.

The ACLU, too, said it believed Trump’s tax statements were unconstitutional, which it called an effort “to bully the NFL into complying with his view of what is politically correct.”

using fame to bring light to an issue

Would we rather live in a world that is dominated by Kim Kardashian-type fame, fame that seems to be used exclusively for self-promotion and personal gain? Or one that includes the voices of people who care deeply about social issues?

The founding fathers, in their protection of free speech–regardless of its content–had very strong feelings on this.

two interpretations of kneeling

For the players, the issue is police brutality, systemic racism—big, broad stroke concerns over race in this country.

To the president, the issue is patriotism and respect for the military.

Perhaps the best solution would be for the president to BEG the players to come to the White House so that they can sit and talk through things, try to understand each other better, try to hear each other more clearly.

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