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Censorship Is Alive And Well

May 25, 2018

This week the NFL announced their “solution” to the issue of athletes kneeling during the national anthem. They will fine the teams and allow each team to set their own policies. They also said that athletes could choose to stay in the locker room during the anthem if they preferred.

I think it’s a terrible decision by the NFL. But, not because it’s censorship. It totally is censorship, but that’s not why it’s a terrible idea.

The protests started two years ago with an athlete named Colin Kaepernick. He first sat during the anthem, but later after talking with a member of the military he switched to taking a knee. Kaepernick is not protesting the military. He’s also not protesting the national anthem. He is, or was, attempting to bring visibility to the issue of police violence against young black men.

You know how Major League Baseball uses pink bats every Mother’s day to draw attention to breast cancer? Yeah, his protest was like that. He was joined by additional players over the past two years. Kaepernick is currently without a contract and may never play in the NFL again, but the protests live on.

The NFL has an attendence problem. They are blaming the protests. And honestly, if someone doesn’t bother to really look into the purpose behind the protest, it’s easy to simply dismiss it as “Those over paid athletes are disrespecting the flag and the men and women who fought and died for it!”

None of that is happening. But, the perception is there. So, the NFL decided to attempt to eliminate the protests via fines. The reaction to the NFL’s directive have been just as misguided as those who misunderstand the purpose of the protest.

Is the NFL censoring the speech of the athletes?

Yes. Absolutely. And that’s perfectly okay.

I can hear you now, “But, Rodney, what about the 1st amendment? Don’t they have a right to speak?”

Sure they do. But, they do not have a right to be protected from the consequences of their speech. What consequences? In this case, potentially fines, or even getting dismissed from the team.

See, the first amendment doesn’t come into play here.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishgment 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.

“But, Rodney, it’s right there, ‘no abridging freedom of speech.’ Isn’t that what the NFL is doing?”

Yes, the NFL is attempting to abridge their speech. And they have every right to. The 1st Amendment doesn’t apply to a private business. It only applies to the government.

Imagine I came to your house. Could you legally censor my speech while at your house? Sure, you could.

– Please don’t swear around my kids
– Please don’t tell my kids that Santa isn’t real (or reveal that the Easter Bunny is)
– Please do not pray

You have every right to censor my speech. If I refuse, you can force me to leave. Facebook has the same rights.

– No fake news, please
– No pornograpny, please
– Nothing that violates our terms of use

Other businesses have the same freedom to censor speech in their places of business. Now, let’s consider the NFL players who are protesting.

– On company time
– On company property
– Wearing company uniforms

Think about your company. Would they be okay with you protesting in a way that is alienating customers while you were on company property, on the clock and wearing a company uniform?

Maybe you have a very forgiving company. Mine would bounce me out the door so fast, I wouldn’t have time to clear out my desk.

And if there was a legal issue with the NFL doing this, don’t you think the NFL players, with their million dollar contracts would have hired a lwayer and protected their “rights.”

No, the NFL isn’t making a mistake because they are censoring their athletes. They have every right to do that. But, this protest is now two years old. And it’s continued for two reasons. One is that the athletes care and the other is that young black men continue to die at the hands of police.

The NFL had a chance to partner with the protesting players and be a force for good. They could have devoted even a fraction of their revenue to fund an entire anti-violence program. They could have done amazing outreach. After all, the protest is happening at the football stadiums, but it’s not the NFL that is causing the problem.

They had a chance to stop the protests by focusing some attention on solutions. Instead they are coming across as tone deaf. I’m predicting that none of those fines will ever get paid. The NY Jets owner has already said he doesn’t intend to fine his players.

The NFL has taken a bad situation and made it worse. But, they didn’t violate anyone’s 1st amendment rights. That’s not much of a consolation.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren. 

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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