When the NFL recently announced their new policy that will fine teams if players on the field fail to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner, a rousing chorus again ensued in regard to whether or not kneeling during the National Anthem was appropriate behavior. In case any of us were somehow unaware, there seem some strong opinions on this issue.
So let’s attempt to extract the emotion for a moment — an exercise that might be wise for our news sources to employ in order to reveal a little less bias. Let us simply ask relevant questions…
First, do players have to be on the field for the anthem?
No, players may protest and not incur a penalty by remaining in the locker room until after the anthem is finished.
How did this protest begin?
Former 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, told the media he sat to protest the oppression of people of color in the United States and ongoing issues with police brutality.
Is the reported origin of the protest accurate?
No one can say for sure. Kaepernick had lost his starting job and there were attempts to trade him in the off-season. His behavior also went unnoticed for two games before he mentioned any protest.
Does the questionable origin matter?
Excellent question — and the answer is subjective. The Intramuralist would opine “no,” as the protest has evolved to a point in which multiple players participate — and many others have fervently weighed in.
Why is the protest a problem?
Many feel the act is disrespectful to the United States, its flag, and its military.
What is our right to protest under the First Amendment?
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment 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.”
Does the First Amendment apply to employers?
Unless we work for the government, the Constitution provides no protection for keeping our jobs based on what we say. Paraphrasing the words of former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, “An employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.”
Is there inconsistency in what employees are allowed to express?
You bet. (Ok, that was opinion there.) The point is that the deciding factor in maintaining current employment seems to be what rubs an employer the wrong way (i.e. see Barr, Rosanne).
Why might this particular protest rub NFL owners the wrong way?
NFL ratings fell 9.7% during the 2017 regular season, according to Nielsen. A typical game was watched by 1.6 million fewer people.
Can the ratings drop be attributed to the protest?
Not with certainty. Ratings were down 8% the year before.
What do we know in regard then to how the public feels about this issue?
The public is divided, but discernment on what a majority of the public believe depends on how the question is asked. Borrowing from the wisdom of Kathryn Casteel, who writes about economics and policy issues for FiveThirtyEight, the public’s answer depends on whether the question posed focuses on patriotism, free speech, or race. When posing the question in regard to patriotism, “surveys tend to find that more people disapprove of the protests than approve.” When posing the question in regard to free speech, “a majority of Americans think players should be allowed to kneel — whether the respondents like it or not.” And when posing the question in regard to race, “it’s not clear.” Writes Casteel:
“Despite the many conflicting poll results, we can say a few things with confidence:
1. A plurality of Americans don’t like the NFL protests — at least if they aren’t told what the players’ goals are.
2. But Americans generally dislike protests involving the flag or anthem, so it’s not clear how much that might affect public opinion in this case.
3. Most Americans think racism is a problem in the abstract, but people are less likely to support the Black Lives Matters movement, which aims to stop police violence against African-Americans.
4. Americans are broadly supportive of the importance of free speech in general, though opinions are more muddled when people are asked about kneeling during the anthem in particular.
But looking at the overall numbers obscures an important fact: Opinions on these issues are incredibly polarized by party and race.”
So last question: how do we love and respect all people well when such a passionate issue is polarized by party and race?
And that is the most excellent and necessary question.
May we each humbly ask ourselves: how do we love all people well?