The President of the United States spoke at a rally on Friday, and in that speech he suggested that private citizens exercising their First Amendment right to free speech should be fired.
Specifically, the President said, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He's fired!'" He did not say, “I am asking NFL owners to fire these protesters,” but the suggestion was entirely clear.
My opinions about Donald Trump are entirely clear at this point. I specifically used the phrase “President of the United States” because that is the very clear issue. We can go back and forth for the rest of time about systemic racism and the many other issues these protests are raising, but what Donald Trump did on Friday is something separate entirely. This is the person holding the unofficial title of “most powerful man in the world” suggesting that private citizens should be punished for exercising their right to free speech.
Let’s get some things clear right off the bat.
1. The First Amendment protects citizens from government infringement. An NFL team choosing to release a player or a team or the league office otherwise choosing to discipline a player is not protected by the First Amendment.
2. An NFL team can release for just about anything. The player contract is incredibly broad, and a team generally does not have to give a reason. They still have to pay them any guaranteed money, but they can “fire” a player at their discretion.
It became very clear this weekend that most NFL owners would support their players. If the President had simply said Colin Kaepernick by name, there would have not been nearly the uproar. But, given that Kaepernick is currently without a job, the President decided to go a step further to speak about other players that are protesting.
The result was a wave of protests over the weekend unlike anything we have seen in NFL history. There were protests elsewhere, including Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell becoming the first Major League Baseball player to take a knee.
The President was speaking to his passionate base of voters more than anything, but it has served to galvanize a movement that had quieted down to a certain extent. Heading into the 2017 NFL preseason, it was believed that fewer players would be protesting. After the Charlottesville protests in which a white supremacist ran his car into a group of protesters, the President’s varying responses drew a renewed group of protests. It was not extensive, and things were relatively calm to a certain extent. Then, the President spoke out on Friday, and that changed everything.
Somehow, it seems fitting that this all went down the weekend I got married (yes, I got married this past Saturday). I woke up Saturday morning, and had some down time before the ceremony. I pulled out my phone and foolishly decided to check out Twitter. I saw what happened Friday night, and actually had an interview request from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for Saturday afternoon. I was getting married at 11 and had the reception happening at 4pm, so that really wasn’t going to happen!
Yesterday, I saw the many protests happening, but my now wife and I had some wedding wrap-up errands to run, and then were basically sitting back and watching mindless TV most of the day. They say a wedding day is exhausting, and they weren’t kidding. I’ll be back in the saddle on Tuesday, but I imagine most of you are not surprised I wanted to get some words in on this subject.
I know it was a rough weekend in here given what went down. I have spoken with our moderators, and I feel that account suspensions were justified, and we did have suspensions on both sides of the arguments. This issue is not going away, and it remains to be seen exactly how we will address it each week. We won’t have a tracking of all the statements and protests next weekend, as this weekend was a truly unique event. That being said, I’ll be keeping an eye on what the 49ers do, if anything, beyond Eric Reid’s kneel-down.
All I know is, when you suddenly see Ray Lewis kneeling down after his various criticisms of Colin Kaepernick, something crazy and unique is happening. I realize this is a 49ers site, but this cross-over of sports and justice issues is incredibly important. We are in a crazy time for a lot of reasons, and the comments and actions of this past weekend have only added to it.