Freedom is defined at the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. It is the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. In the United States, the Constitution is considered the highest law in the land. It is the basis and structure for which the United States is governed and ran. Or is it? The First Amendment guarantees that freedom concerning religion, assembly, and the right to expression. Congress cannot make any laws prohibiting the peaceful establishment of any of the above mentioned. This is not an article on government history but rather an explanation to the hypocrisy in the NFL. The NFL has told its players, yes you are FREE but you don’t have any FREEdom. They do this to skirt the real issue that is being overlooked time and time again.

The NFL has festered up the hornets’ nest again. When it seemed like the issue surrounding whether to stand for the national anthem or not was losing momentum, here comes the league. They announced recently that players who kneel during the national anthem on the field would be fined, but they can stay in the locker room if they want to protest. The kneeling became a protest by then quarterback Colin Kaepernick two years ago. He was using it to bring awareness to the police brutality and injustices targeted at minorities, especially blacks. These issues continue to be an issue as I am currently writing. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have an NBA player thrown to the ground and a Taser used because of a parking violation. Yes, a parking violation. And by the way, Kaepernick still doesn’t have a job in the NFL. Neither does safety Eric Reid, because he chose to kneel during the national anthem.

The players reacted with disgust for this new policy. Los Angeles Chargers offensive tackle Russell Okung was part of the original group of players who met in New York last season with league owners and executives. “Whether it’s in this locker room or in others, I’ve gotten multiple calls. A lot of players are frustrated with the policy the NFL is trying to enforce here.”
Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said, “It’s their right, but I think it was a dumb move and I think it was clumsy. I don’t think it was rooted in patriotism. I love this country; I love our vets. The guys protesting love our country and love our vets. I think it was driven by fear of a diminished bottom line. … The underlying factor is they’re afraid of the President. I don’t really need to expound much on that. It’s their right, again, but it’s a clumsy rule.”

Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh said, “It’s unfortunate. I think that guys should in this world be able to have their free speech and be able to act as they please within respect of all people. … So I support any guys that choose to take a knee or whatever it is, to move for progression and get things unified, but it’s something that we have to deal with. It’s part of our job and we’ll go from there.”

The NFL owners met and with a “unanimous” vote, adopted the policy that you must stand for the national anthem. The only owner who objected was San Francisco 49ers Jed York. The NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “We want people to be respectful of the national anthem. We want people to stand — that’s all personnel — and make sure they treat this moment in a respectful fashion. That’s something we think we owe. [But] we were also very sensitive to give players choices.” York “doubled-down” on his stance by saying the 49ers plan to shut down their concession sales during the anthem. “I don’t think we should be profiting if we’re going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag.” If the sole purpose to stand and respect the flag then that means that everyone should do so. That includes concessions, media, analysts, all staff, and fans. You can’t single out the players when everyone else in the stadium has the FREEdom to do what they please. Since the policy will be part of the NFL’s game operations manual, it will not be subject to Collective Bargaining Agreement by the Players Association. There is still the problem of how to handle a fine. New York Jets chief executive Chris Johnson said he will pay the fine for his players. Don’t be surprised if other executives do the same.

Interestingly enough, members of Congress are now weighing in on this matter. It started with New York Representative Peter King criticizing Johnson for saying he would pay his players fine. He asked, “Would he pay fines of players giving Nazi salutes or spew racism? It’s time to say goodbye to the Jets!” Republican candidates are using the anthem as their support for President Trump. Diane Black, who is running for governor of Tennessee said she canceled her Titans season tickets because of the anthem protest. On the other end of the spectrum you have Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota criticizing the NFL by saying he would boycott the league for its “cowardly and idiotic kneeling ban.” Isn’t it ironic that the members of Congress, those whose job is to uphold the Constitution, are divided on a simple human right? This just proves that you might be FREE to make some choices, but you don’t have FREEdom. This goes to back to the initial, real issue that is being sorely overlooked.

To listen to a panel discussion of this topic by several Atlanta sports media outlets go to DNASportsTalk.com under “Showtime” and click on May 27, 2018.

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