It’s a matter of freedom

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Photo: Illustrator by Emily O'Connell

Some people would have you believe that, by kneeling during the National Anthem, NFL players are not only anti-veteran but also anti-American. However, the simple fact is that these players are only exercising their First Amendment rights.

Not only are these players not assaulting American soldiers or our anthem by protesting, but they are using the platform they have earned through their talents to express their beliefs. Simply because these people are NFL players doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a voice.

If you are offended by these players and their protest, don’t hide behind the excuse that this is an affront to veterans and soldiers. We live in a country where our citizens are legally allowed to burn our flag without fear of repercussions, a right to freedom of expression fought for and protected by our soldiers every day. And while some of the public may not agree with the demonstration, to tell someone not to protest endangers the very basis of American society.

If players are criticized for peaceful demonstrations on the field, it questions their ability to protest at all. The same critics of the NFL protests also cry out against rallies and marches based on fears of riots. If not on the field or in the streets, then where?

Past protests – now hailed as great demonstrations – were neither convenient nor well liked at the time, from the Greensboro Sit-Ins to the March on Selma during the National Civil Rights Movement.

Nor are these athletes alone in using their position to make a statement. Olympians John Carlos and Tommie Smith both used their platform politically when they raised their fist in support of the black power movement during the 1960s. There was outcry then, but now it’s hailed as a great symbol of resistance.

So why draw the line between those protests and the NFL? I thought we learned this lesson back when preventing peaceful protests placed you on the side of the Bull Connors and the George Wallaces of history.

Our nation has plenty of controversial issues that we should be discussing more than kneeling during the anthem. The Brady Campaign reports every 24 hours, 315 people are injured by gunfire, on top of the 47,000 gun incidents that have already occurred in 2017 alone. One month after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, 3 million out of the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans are without power according to Vox, with more than a third still without running water, according to Times. CNN confirms tens of thousands of DACA applicants have not renewed their status and face the fear of deportation to countries that they have no memory of.  

There are plenty of issues that warrant debate, but football players exercising their First Amendment rights about police brutality and racial injustice should not be thought of as a controversial attack on American values. In reality, the attack on American values occurs when critics try to say when and how to protest. Once we remove the freedom from expression, there can be no voice given to the voiceless, no power to the powerless and no hope to the hopeless.