‘USA Today’ Columnist: Stopping NFL Anthem Protests Is ‘Un-American’

49ers Protest
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

A sports columnist for USA Today is pleading with the National Football League to resist any attempt to make a new rule forcing players to stand during the national anthem.

With his May 21 editorial, USA Today columnist Jarrett Bell insisted that “now is not the time for an iron-clad policy forcing players to stand for the anthem.” He even said it would be un-American to force players to show respect for the flag, our first responders, soldiers, and our nation.

Bell also excoriated the league for not signing protesters Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid, saying that it is clear they have been “blackballed.”

“Forcing players to stand for the national anthem would be a huge mistake,” Bell says at the outset of his column.

Bell went on to speak for the players and insisted that all players “love their country and respect the armed forces,” but he added that he hopes the league will end up “doing nothing to bully players” over the anthem issue.

He called any anti-kneeling policy “hollow”:

Besides, an anti-kneeling policy would seem rather hollow with Colin Kaepernick and his former San Francisco 49ers teammate, safety Eric Reid, out of work as they pursue collusion cases against the NFL. That Kaepernick, a quarterback in his prime, can’t land a job in a league with a fair share of sorry passers, is about as un-American as it gets. Reid’s only legitimate sniff on the free agent market abruptly ended when he wouldn’t promise Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown that he wouldn’t kneel to further protest police brutality and other social injustices victimizing African-Americans.

The NFL is fashioned as a meritocracy, open for the best players to claim jobs based on competition. Yet in the case of Kaepernick and now Reid, we know better. Whether they can prove collusion or not, this is what being blackballed looks like.

Bell’s assertion that the protests during the national anthem are not about protesting against the country and that all players “love their country,” runs contrary to what the inventor of the protests himself, said he was doing.

This is what Colin Kaepernick actually said about why he was protesting during the anthem:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder

Kaepernick’s words are hard to reconcile with a love of country.

Bell next asserted that protesting at work was a “constitutional right.”

“For a league that supposedly frowns on teams asking draft prospects about their sexuality,” Bell wrote, “questions about whether players might exercise their Constitutional rights during the anthem as a condition of employment needs to be declared off limits, too.”

Bell, though, is wrong. No American has a constitutional right to disrupt his place of work to make political proclamations. The First Amendment protects a person’s freedom of religion and political expression from government interference. It does not restrict private employers from judging for themselves what are acceptable forms of expression or behavior in the workplace.

In short, no one has a constitutional right to protest at work.

So, if the NFL wants to ask a question about how someone would behave in that particular instance, the constitution would not prevent them from doing so. In fact, NFL teams would have a better case that a rule preventing them from asking questions about whether a player would protest the anthem, would be a larger infringement of their constitutional rights, than it would the players constitutional rights.

Bell also urges NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to quash plans to allow the various teams to make their own rules to regulate the anthem protests saying that the move to end the protests “spits in the face” of our national principles.

“It’s one thing for teams to favor a player based on his background in a particular scheme or to be turned off due to locker room chemistry issues,” Bell moaned. “But to spit in the face of American values the flag is supposed to represent by refusing to hire someone who might kneel during the anthem is such a slippery slope for a league that has employed players (and others) convicted or accused of all sorts of transgressions.”

The columnist adds that ending the protests will only “pour gas” on the problem:

To allow teams to exercise their own anthem policies would be akin to pouring gas on a fire — kind of like Donald Trump did last September while spewing red meat rhetoric to his supporters during a rally in Alabama, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,” as his grand solution. Before Trump’s declaration, you could probably count the number of protesting players across the league on one hand.

Bell also employed the attack on patriotism that many liberal columnists have indulged during this anthem protest fight:

Bad for business? That’s a rationalization you’ll hear from some supporters of an anthem policy. Yet the same people who grumble that players are using the NFL stage to protest have no issue wrapping that same stage in patriotism — with symbols that mean different things to different people in this culturally diverse society.

The columnist closed his plea to allow protests by praising the social justice efforts undertaken by a list of players:

What NFL owners need to adopt is a do-right policy. League support of initiatives that are ongoing with the Players Coalition — led by Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, former stud wideout Anquan Boldin and Doug Baldwin, the dynamic Seahawks receiver — is a much-needed, long overdue step towards pursuing solutions. The protest-to-progress mindset is clearly legitimate, and the NFL’s clout can’t hurt with the type of reform that the coalition is pursuing.

Even as he supports attacks on America, Bell finished his piece with yet another appeal to what he thinks are American principles: “No, now is not the time for an iron-clad policy forcing players to stand for the anthem. It’s the time to acknowledge some truths like we’re all part of the American melting pot,” he said.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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