No protests in football, No Trump in football

Players kneel on the Ravens sideline before the game in London versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. Joining the players was retired linebacker Ray Lewis, second from right.

Matt Dunham / AP

Players kneel on the Ravens sideline before the game in London versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. Joining the players was retired linebacker Ray Lewis, second from right.

Aimee Coons, Staff Writer

Religious freedom and peaceful protest is protected under the Constitution, so why would these players get reprimanded? To kneel, to stand or to not participate are the current options for our nation’s professional athletes during the national anthem.  A tremendous amount of heated debate has been sparked due to this controversy.  Even our fearless leader, President Trump, has weighed in on the situation by raging on Twitter, in classic fashion. Instead of word vomiting on Twitter, I would like to give my opinion in a calm and educated manner.

Colin Kaepernick started his peaceful protest in 2016 and numerous professional athletes in the NFL and other organizations, have joined him. President Trump and many others claim that the protesters are kneeling out of disrespect to the flag. I do not agree with President Trump; I do not believe Kaepernick or the other protesters are being disrespectful. Kaepernick has stated that he kneels to show respect for the military who defend his right to protest and in protest of police brutality, racism and injustice.

However, I have to disagree with the place and time of the protest. The NFL has specific rules and regulations for players, including conduct during the national anthem. The Washington Post’s Cindy Boren cited the NFL’s Game Operations Manual: “The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem…should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand and refrain from talking.” In addition, the NFL’s Official Playing Rules: Rule 5, Section 4, Article 8 states, “Throughout the period on game-day that a player is visible…players are prohibited from wearing, displaying or otherwise conveying personal messages…” These rules clearly prohibit all protesting currently going on.

Despite these rules there is no clearly defined reprimand. The NFL only states that players “may be fined.” The nonchalance of consequences leaves large gaps of interpretation to be taken with rules and regulations. For example, what is the difference between Tim Tebow taking a knee in religious prayer on the field and Colin Kaepernick taking a knee in protest on the field? Both players have violated the rules by “displaying personal messages.”

fortunately, when a player signs a contract with their organization is where some of their constitutional rights stop and their contractual rights begin.

According to Marc Edelman of “contractual free speech is an employee’s right to free speech that arises from an employment agreement with a fixed term or a unionized employee’s collective bargaining agreement.” This means that players must adhere to the guideline of the contract, one of which for the NFL is standing for the national anthem.

In current NFL rules, all protesters are subject to fines and reprimands.  When the players put on their uniforms, they no longer just represent themselves, but they represent their team and organization. If they so choose to display personal messages, whether by prayer or protest, they are subject to reprimand, per their contract. Colin Kaepernick and fellow protesters actions are bold and gaining a tremendous amount of attention. I commend them for standing up…or should I say kneeling for something they believe in.

To form an opinion on this matter was difficult for me to do, but also important. I believe in standing up for what you believe in, but I also believe in professionalism and adhering to contracts. The protesters have broken their contracts and should be held accountable. But, the NFL needs to draw clearly defined rules and reprimands for players who have a breach in contract. Each player who has “displayed personal messages” should receive the same treatment.

It is argued that this protest is bigger than football, and that is true. Racism is not to be taken lightly. However, politics, protests and religious displays are not endorsed by the NFL.  Protests need to be held off the field and President Trump needs to stay out of football.

Aimee Coons is a staff writer for the Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected]