It’s frustrating that with so many important issues on the table – North Korea, Obamacare repeal, tax reform, etc. – the weekend news was dominated by highly-paid sports figures showing disrespect to the National Anthem out of pique over President Trump’s comments about how they should be fired.
Before I dig into this, let’s get one point out of the way up front: no, telling players to knock it off or they’re fired would not be a violation of their First Amendment rights. The First Amendment protects you from government reprisals, it doesn’t give you carte blanche to say anything you want when you’re at work, especially when you’re in the company uniform and representing your employer to the public. Paragraph 2 of the standard NFL contract requires the player to “conduct himself on and off the field with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect for and approval of those associated with the game.”
In other words, doing things that anger the fans and make them less likely to support the team is a violation of your contract. You can’t be jailed for saying things that tick off the customers, but you can be fired. That’s true of virtually any job. If Colin Kaepernick’s Fed Ex guy delivered a right-wing political rant with every package, I bet he’d be on the phone demanding that Fed Ex absolutely, positively can him.
And the NFL has already set a precedent of saying no to players who took a knee in prayer, wore T-shirts with Christian slogans on them or tried to put decals on their helmets in support of the police. It appears that in the NFL, freedom of speech only extends toward the left.
If you’d like to get deeper into the question of what would happen if the NFL did fire players for their political grandstanding, Sports Illustrated examined that in depth.
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