By Ken Reed
The Huffington Post
August 25, 2017

In a land of people who treasure their freedoms, why do so many people hate Colin Kaepernick for exercising his First Amendment-sanctioned rights?

I truly appreciate the fact that the national anthem is very meaningful to a lot of people. To some, it’s a moving tribute to our veterans. To others, it’s a sign of respect for the various branches of our military and what they do for us. For still others, it’s simply the best way to show love of country.

I get it. The anthem triggers a lot of powerful emotions in a lot of people, including me.

In my mind, the national anthem is a song that represents the freedoms we have in this country and honors all those who have fought to retain those freedoms through the years. Most notable among those freedoms are the ones granted within the First Amendment.

The First Amendment allows us — all of us — to freely express our opinions on a wide variety of topics and issues. When I see our flag and/or hear the national anthem, it is those freedoms that I think about and am thankful for. That is why I respectfully stand up during the playing of the anthem — and always will, unless those freedoms are slowly taken from us.

Here’s my question to my fellow Americans today: Who cares what Colin Kaepernick does during the national anthem? Does the fact he chooses to exercise his First Amendment rights by kneeling during the anthem really impact your life?

Personally, I could care less what Kaepernick does during the playing of the national anthem before a game. He has his rights, beliefs and causes. I have mine.

To me, the First Amendment is the primary thing that makes America America. People have died on battlefields to protect the First Amendment, and indirectly, Kaepernick’s right to kneel during the anthem.

But here’s the key: Every American’s First Amendment rights must be protected, not just those of people whose views we agree with. If alt right groups can peacefully demonstrate and protest then we need to protect their First Amendment rights as strongly as we protect those of the progressive left (assuming they can also peacefully demonstrate and protest).

Unsavory, offensive, racist and bigoted speech will ultimately result in self-inflicted damage to the causes of groups made up of KKK and neo-Nazi members. The vast majority of Americans will reject their hateful racist rhetoric. Let them expose themselves for who they are and what they stand for. That said, counter-protesters can’t respond to these hate groups with inflammatory and violent tactics of their own. If they do, the problem will escalate, not dissipate.

To wrap up on Kaepernick and the national anthem. If the song is meaningful to you — in whatever way — then stand up, put your hand over your heart — or salute — and sing your guts out. More power to you. I would just ask that you allow Colin Kaepernick to exercise his First Amendment rights at the same time.

What’s the alternative? Do we force people to stand at attention during the playing of the national anthem?

That would be so draconian and very Soviet Union-like.

A star athlete kneeling in the old Soviet Union during that country’s national anthem never would’ve happened because a member of the Soviet Red Army would’ve quickly put a rifle in his back while yelling at him to stand up.

I’ll take the United States and our freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment over countries — past and present — that require citizens to stand for the playing of a song, no matter what that song is.

Clearly, Colin Kaepernick is being blackballed by the NFL for exercising his rights during the national anthem. He’s a young, healthy, experienced quarterback who nearly won the Super Bowl a couple years ago. Yet, he can’t even find a backup quarterback job in the NFL when far lesser talents (e.g., Mike Glennon, Josh McCown, Geno Smith and Brock Osweiller) enjoy million dollar contracts.

What the NFL is doing to Kaepernick is sad, especially within the context of all the thugs allowed to play in the league. The NFL has given million-dollar contracts in recent years to players convicted of animal abuse, domestic violence and other violent crimes. Former star Ray Lewis is glorified by the league and given broadcasting jobs by both ESPN and Fox despite being involved in an ugly murder scene. Yet, Kaepernick is blackballed from the league for kneeling during the anthem? Now that’s messed up. This is a guy with a clean police record who gives thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours, to charitable and community causes.

I’ll let Beatrice Evelyn Hall (in summarizing Voltaire’s view on free speech) have the final word here:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Nobody ever said it better and nobody ever will.

Ken Reed is Sports Policy Director for League of Fans.

Follow Ken Reed on Twitter.


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