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While Colin Kaepernick may no longer play in the NFL, his influence on the league is more present than ever before. After several players decided to continue in carrying the torch of kneeling during the national anthem, a gesture made to raise awareness of minorities who feel marginalized and brutalized, President Trump commented that owners should “Fire those sons of B**ches”. This created a strong reaction within the NFL, as entire teams knelt during the national anthem in solidarity with those who have been protesting.

Understandably, large numbers of fans are angry at what they see as a disrespectful action against our country itself. Boycotts are being organized, and many are echoing the President’s sentiments that heads should roll. At a time when many college campuses are involved in protests against free speech, and even our politicians are taking a look at whether or not certain forms of expression should not be protected as “free speech”, it is important that we evaluate what lessons can be drawn from these NFL protests.

  • We shouldn’t censor people for their views Now, the NFL and the individual teams are private organizations, and they can choose to hire or fire as they please, but it wasn’t too long ago that a certain tech giant fired a software engineer over views that they deemed “controversial” (if you don’t remember the story, check Google). People were upset about this, and yet many of these same people are calling for players to be fired for expressing their own viewpoints. We can not apply a double standard to freedom of speech or freedom of association; both are protected under the first amendment.
  • The right to protest is a fundamental part of freedom of speech. This is a peaceful demonstration that the players are engaged in. They are doing it to call attention to an issue they care deeply about, and think deserves attention. While fans are upset that politics are entering into sports, it’s not a stretch to think that these players want to use the platform they’ve been given. How many of us have posted our opinions and thoughts on the protest over social media? People will use whatever stage they feel they have. It is completely unfair to say “If you want to protest, find a civil, peaceful way of doing it…except for that, I don’t think you should be able to do that.”
  • The flag and the anthem are symbolic of America, and part of what makes America unique among all other nations that have ever been established is the unprecedented and unparalleled protections we give to individual citizens to express themselves and to live their lives, however they see fit, so long as it doesn’t impose on the rights of another to do the same. While taking a knee may not seem like the most respectful way to honor those symbols of our freedom, neither is the idea that the players should not be allowed to do so.

There’s a reason certain freedoms were given protection under the first amendment; they are among the most important to a free society. A famous quote by Evelyn Beatrice Hall says, “While I may not agree with a word you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it”. We may not like the form the protests have taken, we may even take issue with what the principles behind the protests, but we cannot try to force our own opinions of what should or should not be said or done on others. We engage in the debate, we exercise our freedom of speech. We listen, and hope that people on the other side of the aisle do the same. Above all, we acknowledge the blessing we have to live in a country where people can freely disagree. If we as a people can’t agree over this, the most basic of individual liberties, how will we hope to be able to come together and solve the even greater challenges we face?