Football Protests and Free Speech

Prior to 2009, professional football players in the U.S. did not participate in pregame activities like the singing of the national anthem. In an effort to purchase support for foreign adventurism, the U.S. military began spending millions in taxpayer funds to get athletes to participate in patriotic ceremonies. This effort was broadly accepted until Colin Kaepernick chose to kneel during the anthem in protest of police brutality toward members of his race. Mr. Kaepernick is no longer employed by any team in the NFL but that has not deterred others from joining in the protest. While some argue that the protests themselves are expressions of free speech, they actually help prove the fallacy of free speech absent private property.

While Mr. Kaepernick has every right to believe as he does and express himself through such non-violent means, his rights do not provide him access to football fields or national broadcasts. His absence from the national stage reflects the desire of team owners to remove political activism from their sporting events. The choice by owners to refuse him access resulted from significant numbers of consumers who disagree with Mr. Kaepernick’s position, the use of his fame to protest, or both.

In response to Mr. Kaepernick’s absence, several teams and teammates elected to continue his efforts. However, just as with democracy and government, the number of participants don’t change the ethical nature of rights. Just as Mr. Kaepernick and his supporters are free to think and speak as they wish, those who own the property on which they speak, or consume the entertainment which they provide, are just as free to reject these efforts. In order to be ethically applied, no individual’s or group’s freedom to speak cannot infringe upon the freedom of others.

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