Time to Stand Up, Colin.


Taken from USA Today

Former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kneels during the national anthem before a game. This action has sparked heavy controversy, prompting the changes made to the NFL’s employee’s agreement.

Before I say anything, allow me to say this:

Political protest is, and should always be, a protected right for everyone in this country.

Freedom of speech and expression is, and should always be, a protected right for everyone in this country.

Freedom of religion and adherence to one’s personal religious practices is, and should always be, a protected right for everyone in this country.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the national anthem and the National Football League.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the NFL recently revised its employees’ agreement for its players. The new terms now require all players on the field during a football game to stand for the national anthem when it is performed, or to wait in the locker room if they choose not to participate. Previously, the agreement had no specifications or requirements for the conduct of players during the national anthem. This change has, naturally, created a large amount of controversy in the wake of kneeling players like Colin Kaepernick using the pre-game national anthem as a platform for political protest. 

The new terms now require all players on the field during a football game to stand for the national anthem… ”

There are many facets to this topic on both sides. Let me break it down for you, and then I’ll tell you what I think.

First of all, as we all know, freedom of speech and political protest is protected under the first amendment. However, this is a right guaranteed to all INDIVIDUALS. This distinction is subtle, but key. When one is employed by a company, they are no longer individuals during their working hours; they are elements of a much larger body, their company. They must sign working agreements that can sometimes restrict certain personal freedoms that individuals enjoy on their own time.

For example, In-N-Out Burger will not hire anyone with tattoos visible on the body while in uniform. Torso and other body tattoos are permitted because they are hidden by the working uniform, but arm, face, neck, and other exposed tattoos will render a prospective employee unhireable by their company standards.

On an even more basic level, I work at Taco Bell. While I’m working, I am at the discretion of my bosses. I cannot discuss politics with our customers on my own volition during working hours because it is not permitted by my company, as they wish for me to be as welcoming and non-polarizing as possible to make everyone feel welcome, which drives profits up as more customers come in anticipating friendly service.

But there’s also the fact that freedom of religion and political belief is strictly protected by the Bill of Rights. The recent lawsuit with the Christian cake maker Jack Phillips refusing to make a custom wedding cake for a gay couple is a pretty good example of the limits of these freedoms, however. The Supreme Court ended up ruling in the baker’s favor, as the custom cake is a form of art, and is therefore an extension of the artist and his expression. A premade wedding cake is not necessarily classified as so, so if the gay couple ordered a premade cake, the baker would be forced to sell to them to avoid discrimination, but since a custom cake is commissioned and is made to order on-demand, according to the Supreme Court, the artist can curate who they sell to.

Forcing the baker to commission a cake against his will would infringe on his right to choose what kind of art he makes and who he makes it for. In other words, the freedom of one individual ends where another individual’s freedom begins. One can’t compromise the freedoms of one to fulfill the needs of another.

So on the one hand, religious and political affiliation are heavily protected by the law, and people can’t be denied employment based on these conditions, but an employee’s actions and behavior are subject to regulation by their employers. An employer has the right to regulate the behavior of their employees while they’re on the clock in order to increase their profit margins, but their employees have a right to be treated with fairness and be given their rights as the law dictates, even in the workplace. These are the fundamental sides to each argument in this debate.

Now, what do I think?

A business has one obligation when it boils down to it. It has an obligation to its shareholders to make money. And that business can dictate certain restrictions on its employees’ behavior in order to maintain the image and climate it desires. A business cannot restrict an individual from believing in a certain political ideology or organization, but they can make their employees abstain from showing or disclosing such allegiance or opinion while on the job. The NFL’s new policy has compromised in order to satisfy their own needs and their employees’ rights by restricting their right to kneel during the national anthem, but allowing them to stay in the locker room and abstain from participating in the anthem. In other words, political demonstration is prohibited, but political belief is not. This is within the borders of legality. 

I personally find kneeling during the national anthem counterproductive and shameful…”

I personally find kneeling during the national anthem counterproductive and shameful, as one is essentially protesting the foundation and very symbol of the freedom and equality that our country embodies. Our flag does not represent police, nor does it represent our president or other elected bodies. It represents our country’s heritage of freedom, equality, integrity, service, and opportunity; it represents the fallen soldiers who gave their lives to protect these invaluable characteristics of our country; it represents everything everyone ought to be proud of by being American, regardless of political orientation.

If you want to protest police brutality, go kneel in front of a police station or something. Don’t do it during the one event in our country that is supposed to unify us under the concepts of liberty and justice for all. I’m never going to stop you, because it’s your right to do as you wish and I place the utmost value on personal freedom, but the NFL will.