NFL Player Protests

I wrote a post some time ago about Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the playing of the national anthem at the start of NFL games. Since then, many other players have joined the protest. They won’t stand for the anthem, looking at the flag with their hand over their heart. Instead, they stand, kneel, sit, or raise a fist. What Kaepernick started has grown significantly. No end is in sight.

The protest is mostly by black players. It concerns unfair treatment of black Americans by police forces throughout the nation. They say that police are harsher in their dealings with Blacks, and are more likely to shoot and shoot to kill, whereas with Whites the police try more extensively to work it out with verbal commands. I hope I’ve stated this position correctly.

The protest is very visible, as they intend for it to be. It has also produced considerable response from NFL fans, a response that is, perhaps, exactly opposite of what the protesters want. Fans are tuning out in anger. Attendance at NFL games is down this year. Television ratings are down. Both of these drops seem to be more than statistical anomalies, and rather reflect that something’s going on. The NFL has suggested it’s due to over-saturation, and that they’ve gone too far in pushing the NFL out to the public. Most people, however, believe the drop in attendance and viewership is fan backlash against the protests.

You could say that the fans are making their own protest, a private protest against the protesting players and against the league, which is allowing them to do this. But is a silent protest any good? Shouldn’t protests be visible? Otherwise, how to you bring about the change in the situation you’re protesting? To not do a thing is passive. To do a thing is active. Players are actively protesting, and fans are passively protesting the active protest of the players.

I haven’t heard any fans who say the players have no case, or are protesting a problem that doesn’t exist. Fans are simply saying the protests are at the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong way. Or, perhaps another way of interpreting this, is fans truly aren’t sympathetic to the protest, i.e. they don’t see the same problem as the players see, and thus don’t want to hear about it. They don’t say this, but they believe this. Who knows which is correct.

Into this mix, throw in the concept of free speech. The players have a right to protest, a God-given right of free speech protected from government interference by the Constitution. Yes, this is true. Also true is that everyone who works for a living gives up some of their rights when they enter their employer’s place of business. Some even give up some of this right outside of the place of business. A public school teacher who posts nude photos of themself online, outside of normal working hours, will almost certainly be fired. Long ago I realized that I shouldn’t put political bumper stickers on my vehicle, since my employer seeks to win public projects and any political display by me might hurt those prospects. My employer never said don’t display political leanings in a way that would harm us. It wasn’t necessary to mention it; I was smart enough to know not to. But, had my employer said that, my rights would not have been restricted. It was an employer saying that, not the government.

So where am I going with this? I look at the protesting NFL players. Their employer—either the teams or the league—could restrict their free speech as a condition of employment. But the teams haven’t, and the league hasn’t. What’s going on, however, is they are losing their audience. Their protests are backfiring. Because the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees you a right to free speech (i.e. no government infringement on free speech) but it does not guarantee you an audience. You have to earn an audience, earn it by the way you protest and the words you say. Earn it by making plain what it is you are protesting, not just grandstand the problem. Earn it by trying to actually make a change, not just call attention to it.

Someone might say, “Some are in a position to make changes; others are in a position to call attention to the changes needed but not necessarily to bring about the changes.” That’s a valid argument. However, everyone needs to consider the effectiveness of their work (in this case their protest), and decide if the audience is getting the message, which would suggest that change is coming. If the audience isn’t getting the message, or if the audience is rejecting the message, it’s time to reconsider the protest methods and perhaps do something else.

This is where we are right now, it seems to me. The NFL players who are protesting are losing their audience. Meaning they aren’t bringing about the change they desire. It might be time to change tactics.

I assume the NFL players are trying to make me see the need for a change: that I’m part of their target audience. I don’t know for sure if that’s what they want, but I think that’s the case. I’m just a part of who they want to reach. They want to reach the whole country. I’m part of that demographic.

I would say to the players: Look around you. See how your protests are being received. Is your message getting through? If not, change what you’re doing. Protest in another manner. Or, better yet, rather than just calling attention to a problem, DO SOMETHING to solve the problem. Your platform is huge; your influence is great. If you would work to solve the problem, rather than just call attention to it, maybe, just maybe, you will change the world.

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