The NFL Anthem Decision Is Not An Assault On Free Speech

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Scott Greer Contributor
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Conservatives apparently failed the NFL’s free speech test.

That’s the opinion National Review’s David French offered in a Thursday New York Times op-ed.

French argued a “conservative mob” forced the NFL to infringe on the free speech of its players with its new national anthem rule. Players who wish to protest during the national anthem are required to stay in the locker room during the pre-game act. Every player must stand for the anthem or incur a fine for kneeling. (RELATED: NFL Officially Passes New National Anthem Rules)

French compares this to Google firing diversity skeptics and college campuses silencing conservative students. “It’s corporate censorship backed up with a promise of corporate punishment. It’s every bit as oppressive as the campus or corporate attacks on expression that conservatives rightly decry.”

The ability to protest the flag and the anthem is one of the defining expressions of liberty in our country, according to the writer. French admonishes conservatives for cheering the decision, seeing hypocrisy in denouncing the censorship of other private corporations while celebrating the NFL’s.

This ignores several key distinctions. For one, he NFL’s new policy is little different from the NBA’s version, a sports league with a more progressive reputation that has required players to stand for the anthem for years.

Shockingly, there is no outrage at the NBA while the establishment media pretends the NFL is burning the Constitution on a jumbotron.

Unlike Google or any other company that fires employees for wrong think, the NFL is not threatening to kick kneeling players out of the league. The only punishment is having to sit in the locker room if their moral conviction demands they sit for the anthem, or a nominal fine a multimillionaire can easily pay off. (At least one team owner is offering to cover any fines incurred through protest.) (RELATED: This NFL Team CEO Will Pay National Anthem Protest Fines For His Players)

NFL players can still express their opinion through the many avenues offered to high-profile celebrities, just not during the anthem. This is completely different from tech giants who punish employees for their private views that are not displayed on national TV. French cites the case of former Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich as an example of corporate punishment of conservatives. Eich was fired for donations he made to anti-same sex marriage initiatives, a fact he kept private and completely separate from his work.

But he lost his job over it, even though it was something that had nothing to do with his work and he kept to himself.

French also cites fired Google engineer James Damore, even though he shared his critical views of corporate diversity in an internal mailing list which encouraged employees to share their opinions–not the public. He didn’t turn the Google doodle into a bell curve, but he lost his job due to left-wing activists demanding his head. (RELATED: Google Fires Engineer Who Wrote ‘Anti-Diversity’ Memo)

It’s not a right-wing mob forcing the NFL to make a change, as French claims. In fact, the league was perfectly happy to tell conservatives to go to hell over the past two seasons. Remember how the league responded to President Trump’s anti-protest comments in September? That wasn’t a sign they were bowing to the conservative “mob.”

Unlike Google, Mozilla and countless other companies that have needlessly caved to leftist mobs, the NFL made its anthem rule in response to its fans. Ratings and ticket sales have plummeted ever since Colin Kaepernick sat down for the national anthem nearly two years ago. The NFL decided it needed to adopt the NBA’s rules to reverse the decline.

French laments how Kaepernick has been banished from the league over his protest, but it’s not all due to his kneeling. It is likely Kaepernick would be on a team roster right now if he had accepted a backup quarterback salary instead of insisting on a starting QB’s pay. No team wanted him as their starter due to his skill set. (RELATED: NFL Source: Kaepernick Turned Down At Least 1 Contract To Play Up The Race Card)

Companies are able to set certain restrictions on when their employees are allowed to voice their views. A cashier yelling at customers about white privilege would not be seen as appropriate — unless it’s part of a new Starbucks initiative. Everybody would agree companies are right to frown on political speech in such settings.

The anthem protest decision is no different.

These players never have to worry about their left-wing opinions costing them a job. The same cannot be said of conservative employees at big corporations. Their private views — as evidenced by Eich and Damore — can make them unemployable, and The New York Times opinion section will show little concern for their plight.

There is no speech chilling effect from the anthem decision. Players are still going to be just as free to share their woke opinions whenever they’re off the field. Now if they have conservative opinions, that’s a different story. While liberals always mourn for Kaepernick, former Seattle Mariners catcher Steve Clevenger hasn’t played in the majors after he tweeted criticism of Black Lives Matter back in 2016.

Surprisingly, everyone complaining about Kaepernick’s situation fails to mention Clevenger. Who are the real hypocrites?

The most depressing implication in French’s argument is that conservatives have to surrender in the cultural war to maintain a mythical moral superiority that nobody acknowledges. The piece seems to think that if conservatives stand up for the NFL players’ right to kneel, then liberals will suddenly stand up for the right of college students to book conservative speakers.

That’s never going to happen. Liberals openly support censorship when it punishes their enemies and are not troubled by the hypocrisy of denouncing it against their allies.

It’s wrong to demand average Americans shut up and accept radical cultural transformation when they’re just trying to watch the game. They clearly did not like the anthem protests, which they saw as anti-American. Kaepernick’s own comments claiming the country oppresses “people of color” only solidified that impression. (RELATED: Are The Kneelers Protesting America? Just Ask Kaepernick)

The anthem decision is not a loss for liberty or a sign our rights are disappearing. It was the free market reacting to a decline in business. But apparently, the true conservative position is to ignore the dictates of the free market, in just this one instance, in order to score brownie points with the liberal elite.

That position won’t restore liberty, but it at least will get you an op-ed in The New York Times.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.