To Stand or Not to Stand: A Freedom of Speech Debacle

By: Isabella Falcon

In 2016, forty-one percent of people shot and killed by police officers were people of color.[1]On August 26, 2016, Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49er’s then-quarterback, wanted to make an impactful move on game day to express his thoughts and concerns. He was photographed making a rather startling move on the sidelines; he sat during the United States’ national anthem.[2]After that game, Kaepernick told reporters that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”[3]Kaepernick began to show that as an athlete, he can do more than throw a 30-plus yard pass and score points for his team. He could use football as a platform to express himself and bring awareness to more significant issues—police brutality and racial injustice. Football players began to follow and kneel, during the national anthem, to show support for Kaepernick’s protest.

As Kaepernick and other football players across the league continued to protest, Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers and became a free agent.[4]But not one team in the National Football League (NFL) decided to sign with Kaepernick during the offseason, to which there is a rather large debate whether he is worthy of a quarterback position.[5]The President of the United States, Donald Trump, called on NFL owners to fire the players who wouldn’t stand for the anthem.[6]Kaepernick was faced with a tough issue, whether he would continue to protest for what he believes in, protected by his right to free speech, or stop so that he can continue to prosper in his work life in the face of opposition.

During an interview Kaepernick had, after his first sitting of the national anthem, he said, “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”[7]A year later, Kaepernick still was not signed to any NFL team and filed a grievance against the NFL, where he accused team owners of conspiring against him by not signing him and keeping him out of the league.[8]Recently in Kaepernick’s case against the NFL, the arbitrator has denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss and the case will proceed to trial.[9]

When the 2018 football season began, Nike decided to take their stand on the issue by releasing a new ad campaign with Kaepernick, which is centered around the ex-football player’s movement.[10]The slogan for this campaign is “Believe in something, [e]ven if it means sacrificing everything.”[11]Nike’s new campaign caught many people off guard because Nike had recently signed an extension contract with the NFL to provide uniforms and apparel through 2028.[12]

With this triangle of deals and lawsuits, what can someone or any athlete take away from this entire scenario? Although we, the people of the United States, are protected by the first amendment’s freedom of speech,[13]can we freely speak our minds without implicating something else, such as our work, reputation, or school?

[1]Fatal Force, The Washington Post, visited Sep. 12, 2018).

[2]Juan Carlos Guerrero, TIMELINE: Looking back at Colin Kaepernick’s transformation from football star to social justice advocate, ABC 7 News, (Sep. 4, 2018)

[3]Christine Hauser, Why Colin Kaepernick Didn’t Stand for the National Anthem, N.Y. Times, (Aug. 27, 2016)

[4]Guerrero, supra Note 2.

[5]Guerrero, supra Note 2.

[6]Guerrero, supra Note 2.

[7]Hauser, supra Note 3.

[8]Guerrero, supra Note 2.

[9]Guerrero, supra Note 2.

[10]Guerrero, supra Note 2.

[11]Guerrero, supra Note 2.

[12]Michael Errigo, Rick Maese & Mark Maske ,Colin Kaepernick to Star in Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ campaign, Wash. Post, (Sep. 4)

[13]U.S. Const. amend. I.


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