Few people really understand the First Amendment and the ones who do tend to selectively enforce it depending on their particular ideology.
That said, free speech is something that is very important to the fabric of our country but the Constitution does not demand free speech without consequences.
That’s a fine line, but it’s also a very important one.
Colin Kaepernick had every right to protest what he described to NFL Media as wrongdoings against African Americans and other minorities by refusing to stand for the National Anthem before Friday’s preseason loss to Green Bay.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “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.”
As controversial as that is, the NFL, as a governing body, should tread lightly when it comes to any sort of potential discipline even if the quarterback’s actions harm the brand a bit in the minds of the casual public.
Kaepernick’s passion is both evident and understandable but the struggling signal-caller also needs to understand every action has a reaction and if his immediate employer deems his actions on the job are hurting its business, well then it has every right to respond with everything from suspension to termination.
Understand businesses serve different constituencies with a wide range of ideologies and must serve many masters in order to keep their customers happy. How they do that, and how much shrapnel they want to take on any particular issue is up to them.
If Kaepernick the citizen decided to go to a Golden State Warriors game and offer up the same kind of protest, and the 49ers got bent out of shape because, as a local celebrity, the media picked up on it, then he should be defended to the hilt.
But, when he’s wearing that uniform and representing that organization, that’s a different ball game, and the 49ers have a right to take action if they deem that’s the proper thing to do.
For now, the 49ers played it safe, releasing a statement they hope diffuses what is quickly becoming a controversy.
“The National Anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony,” the team said. “It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
Kaepernick indicated that he is aware that his actions will not sit well with a large portion of the fan base and the organization itself but feels this goes far beyond football, and he wasn’t looking for anyone’s approval.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
And no one should question his right to do that nor should they question the fallout from the 49ers if they choose to head in a direction that is different from their particular passions.
From a football perspective, Kaepernick was already skating on thin ice with San Francisco due to an amalgamation of performance, injuries, money and attitude.
In any cost-benefit analysis, Kaepernick no longer looked like he was worth the trouble for the 49ers before this controversy transcended sport and made its way into the national headlines.
Now, you can expect Trent Baalke to move mountains in order to get this quarterback out of his locker room.
And that’s not about racism, it’s about realism.
–John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SBNation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.