227 years ago, America’s founding fathers penned the Bill of Rights, which outlined the rights of its citizens.
At the top of the Bill is the First Amendment, a law which protects Americans’ freedom of religion, press, assembly and speech.
The men who assembled this nation deemed freedom of speech as an essential item in their Bill of Rights. That should not change today — especially for athletes protesting police brutality and racial tension on national television.
The NFL took the First Amendment, ripped it from the Bill of Rights, crumpled it into a ball, lit it on fire and stomped the flame out when it announced on May 23 that players could no longer kneel during the national anthem without leaving themselves open to punishment from the league.
The NFL must reevaluate its position on restricting what players can and cannot do. Players should be able to protest on a national platform to bring attention to issues they feel strongly about.
Penalizing players for kneeling during the national anthem is completely contradictory of one of the most basic rights of American citizens.
In August 2016, then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. He was the first player to kneel in protest and other players joined him as he continued.
“I am not going to stand up and show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Kaepernick was cut from the 49ers roster and is no longer a quarterback in the NFL.
The NFL’s new rule requires players and staff who are on the field during the playing of the Star-Spangled Banner to stand. It outlines that teams will be fined if a player attempts to sit or kneel during the anthem.
According to ESPN, commissioner Roger Goodell said he wants people to be respectful of the national anthem and will require all personnel to “treat the playing of the national anthem in a respectful fashion.”
While NFL team owners were nearly unanimous in their vote supporting the new rule, some have different opinions. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said he wants all players to stand while New York Jets owner Christopher Johnson said he wanted to avoid any appearance of muzzling players.
It is unclear what the NFL hopes to accomplish by penalizing players who kneel during the national anthem. League officials claim players should respect the flag, but there are plenty of signs that point to some ulterior motive.
Last season, the NFL saw a 10 percent drop in viewership. The year before that: an 8 percent decline. NFL television ratings are on the downswing and the new rules could be an attempt to bring back viewers. According to Sports Illustrated, the viewership for NBC’s Sunday Night Football in 2015 was over 22.5 million viewers. That number dropped to 20.3 million in 2016 and again to 18.1 million in 2017.
The NFL runs the risk of becoming more of a reality television program instead of a sports program. I can picture advertisements of “see what happens at next week’s game.” At any rate, the first nationally televised game between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles on Sep. 6 will likely attract plenty of viewers to see who kneels and who does not kneel and what the actual consequences will be.
Nick Wright, a personality on Fox Sports 1, urged opponents of the protests to ask themselves honestly why they are so upset about players kneeling. Is it because people think kneeling is disrespecting the flag or if they are upset about what is being protested? There is a big difference in kneeling out of disrespect to the flag and the United States of America and kneeling to protest police misconduct.
George Washington, America’s first president once said: “If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
Issuing fines for players who kneel in protest is a dangerous step in the wrong direction for both the NFL and America.
Sam Newlon is a senior majoring in mass communication