Others’ Opinion: Anthem protests show free speech is not easy

Published 8:25 am Thursday, September 15, 2016

St. Cloud Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

“They say it’s not the time to do this. When is the time? It’s never the time in somebody else’s eye, because they’ll always feel like it’s good enough. And some people don’t. That’s the beautiful thing about this country. If somebody feels it’s not good enough, they have that right. That’s all we’re doing, exercising that right.”

Email newsletter signup

That statement Sunday from Miami Dolphin running back Arian Foster to USA Today aptly summarizes the thinking of NFL players who are using the playing of the national anthem to express their views about how people of color are treated in this country.

Whether it’s taking a knee, sitting down or raising a fist, protesting during the anthem has gone on for a half-century or more in U.S. athletics. And don’t forget about everybody from LeBron James to four Minnesota Lynx players all using their popularity and their employers’ stages this year to express personal views. (The same goes for the four police officers who walked out during the Lynx players’ protest.)

Free speech is a wonderful but messy thing.

And while various athletes’ views may infuriate some fans while inspiring others, the most influential factor over these protests should be whether the athletes’ actions violate their terms of employment.

After all, it’s not like these protests are being done on the athlete’s private time. Rather, they are using work time to promote a personal cause. It doesn’t matter if you’re an all-star athlete or an auto mechanic at the local garage, when you’re working, behavior is largely dictated by the employer you represent.

The challenge gets a little more complicated for college and high school athletes making similar protests. They are not employees yet they attend institutions with clear behavior expectations — expectations theoretically crafted to allow them enough latitude to learn as well as play sports.

Witness how a Massachusetts high school handled one player’s anthem protest last week.

The Washington Post reported Doherty Memorial High in Worcester, Mass., initially suspended football player Michael Oppong because he planned a protest similar to NFL players. However, school administrators rescinded a one-game suspension before it took effect.

“… He exercised his constitutional rights without disturbing the school assembly and he is not being disciplined in any way by his actions,” district leaders told The Post. “Worcester Public Schools is a rich, diverse community that thrives to maintain open dialogue about the challenges that our community and our country face.”