Free and Uncomfortable – What the NFL and Campus Protests Have Shown Us

I WILL BE THE FIRST TO AGREE that there is no shortage of issues that need our attention as a nation but there is a common underlying theme that has been prominent in our social dialogue that I felt compelled to discuss and offer my perspective; that theme being the First Amendment to the United States Constitution – Freedom of Speech.

Unsurprisingly, it is very easy to lose your train of thought in the din of social media and the media in general when it comes to virtually any topic worthy of our attention.  Knowing this, I took some time and gave a genuine attempt at extrapolating the best form of the contentions I have come across in recent weeks regarding Freedom of Speech.  The 2 mainstream proponents being the NFL protests and the campus unrest around freedom of speech and “free speech week”.

Observation 1 – The NFL Protests – (Colin Kaepernick)

colin kaepernick time magazine cover

By now you are probably aware of Colin Kaepernick’s protest during the National Anthem.

“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.” – Colin Kaepernick

Here is a comprehensive timeline of the protest I found helpful in understanding the progression of his protest and its development. (Click here to see a comprehensive timeline.)

Colin Kaepernick’s protest has brought to the limelight several sentiments and contentions held deeply amongst many of us.  Let’s explore two main ones I have come across.


Colin Kaepernick IS Disrespecting the American Flag / Anthem – He Is Ungrateful (This Was Not The Right Way To Protest)

For many, it is an unthinking emotional response – a knee jerk reaction – to say “this was not the right way to go about it.”

Trust me, I get the frustration.

But as black and white as the issue may seem (I love puns), we would be tone deaf (and irony) if we did not take a step back from our own machine of thought and attempt to understand the nature of “protest” in general.

Consider the following:

It is absolutely true that many people, including many veterans, are finding Colin’s actions offensive and inappropriate.

But just as many people, including veterans, support his actions and concur with his sentiments regarding the state of our country.

In fact, there is an entire Twitter trend dedicated to it.  Here are some of those voices:

  1. ABC News Article Showcasing Veterans For Colin
  2. Former Green Beret Supporting Football Players Kneeling
  3. Op Ed Piece By Army Veteran

“I was surprised to realize that I have no protection at all against being annoyed. Nor do I have the right to agree technically that he has freedom to protest, but then demand that his protest take the form I choose for him. Nor does he have to go back to his neighborhood of origin and help his former neighbors, as some have demanded; he may do so or not. That’s freedom.” – Robert B Simpson (Army Vet) – Share #3

“I can tell you, speaking for three generations of my family, it is PRECISELY for men like Kaepernick, and his right to peacefully protest injustice, that we were willing to serve. There is NOTHING more respectful of our country than living up to its ideals. There is nothing more patriotic than to say “I’m concerned with injustice, and will use my position to try and address it.” – Michael Sand (Former Green Beret) – Share #2

Now, before I expand on my perspective, I think it is important to highlight and discuss another closely related contention.

office space - fire employee - terminate.jpg

The NFL Should Fire Players For Protesting “On The Clock”

There are many moving parts to this contention, so let us waste no time.  Firstly, at the very core of this argument, technically, the NFL could fire players that “protest while on the clock.” (From the best of my knowledge- which is questionable)

But will they?

Ah yes, “will they”, the billion dollar question.

My guess is: Probably Not – Here Are 3 Reasons Why

nip it in the bud barneyReason 1 – Business

Initially, at its very core, this was a simple business decision.  Should the NFL nip this issue in the bud and remove Colin Kaepernick from the NFL?  The answer very quickly became, we can’t.  Mainly because many major clubs and players joined in.  Simply stated, it’s not favorable to fire everyone…it’s bad for business.

YankeeStadium-NewYork-ExteriorGate4EntranceReason 2 – Private vs Public

Yes, on the surface, the NFL and NFL teams are private actors but I soon came to learn that there are some interesting potential arguments to the contrary.  For example, the 1978 Court Case Ludtke v. Kuhn.  In this case the court held that the city of New York’s involvement in the lease arrangement for Yankee Stadium altered Major League Baseball’s (MLB) decision to prohibit female reporters (Melissa Ludtke) from entering the Yankee’s clubhouse from a “private action” to a “public action”.  Many legal minds have come to speculate that, with this same legal logic, one could argue that the substantial public funding of NFL stadiums, combined with tax breaks offered to NFL clubs could arguably alter certain clubs to “public actors”.  So much for “free market” I suppose.

donald trump president.jpgReason 3 – President Donald Trump

Even if reason number 1 and 2 were dealt with – President Donald Trump made it – arguably – more difficult on September 22nd 2017 when he said NFL owners should fire players who take a knee during the national anthem and to

Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s Fired!” – Donald J Trump (45th President of the United States of America)

This has created uncharted legal territory but the issue is quite obvious.  Although there may be little to no available legal precedent, who’s to say the firing of an NFL player at this point wasn’t to appease the President?  Perhaps in fear of losing subsidies and tax breaks?  The United States Constitutional protection of free speech clearly focuses on preventing the government from intruding on personal expression.

Anyone else smell that?  Yeah…smells like an obscene amount of billable hours.

Concluding Observation 1

Yes, many of us may not agree with the underlying reasons for Colin Kaepernick’s protest but we would be unwise to conflate this disagreement with his right to protest.

Protests, if they are to have any lasting impression or meaningful influence on society, will by their very nature be inconvenient and uncomfortable.  I beseech you to consider that peaceful should be the only metric for a protestsrighteousness

It is true, that in many cases private entities have the ability to highlight or denounce our speech but we as individuals have that very same ability.

Our Freedom of Speech is precisely what makes our Democratic Republic possible.  Our Freedom of Speech is precisely what brings about social change.  Our Freedom of Speech is precisely what has given the United States of America the ability to continuously reinvent itself, to continuously change and become more apt in an ever changing world.

The founding members of our nation went to great lengths to create a foundation from which we could all build from and benefit; I do not think it is by mere coincidence that the 1st Amendment was Freedom of Speech.

Observation 2 of 2 – Campus Unrest

University of California Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley , often regarded as the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), has become something…well, not so much that – in recent years.

If you haven’t noticed, there has been an interesting trend playing out on university (college) campuses lately – and that is: if we find you too offensive or disagreeable – get out – and stay out.  This is, let’s say, a “toned down” version of what seems to be happening.

Below is a small example of a few prominent mainstream figures that have been disinvited for one reason or another throughout the years:

**Feel Free To Peruse The Content In More Detail At Your Convenience and Leisure***

Meet (Liberal / Democratic) HBO Talk Show Host, Comedian and Political Commentator Bill Maher
(Video: 3 Minutes 36 Seconds)

Meet (Conservative) Political Commentator and “Social Provocateur” Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo Yiannopoulos

Milo is a British commentator and “social provocateur” who has become more visible in recent years namely for his signature polemic commentary on social and political issues and figures.

It would be an understatement to say Milo is controversial and UC Berkeley has in recent weeks cancelled Free Speech Week mid week; effectively cancelling Milo’s appearance.

Here is a brief panel discussion where one can begin understanding Milo’s…”provocateur nature.”  This was a recent appearance he had on Real Time with Bill Maher:

(Video: 3 Minutes 36 Seconds)

Meet Political and Social (Conservative) Commentator  Ann Coulter

ann coulter

If you are unaware, Ann Coulter is a conservative political and social commentator.  Her scheduled speech at UC Berkeley has been cancelled several times in recent years.

Here is an article highlighting the most recent cancellation.

Here is a video illustrating Ann Coulter’s views and commentary

(Video: 11 Minutes 46 Seconds)

Meet Political and Social (Conservative) Commentator Ben Shapiro

ben shapiro

Ben Shapiro also experienced immense amounts of pushback during Free Speech Week at UC Berkeley.

Here is a Washington Post article highlighting the pushback.

Here is Ben Shapiro on The Rubin Report Hosted By Dave Rubin
(20 Minutes)

Disinviting right-wing provocateurs isn’t a suppression of free speech. It’s a value judgement in keeping a higher education’s mission.” – Irony (2017)

Final Thoughts


The NFL protest and campus free speech contentions, I feel, share a common ancestor; discomfort.

Many of the people I highlighted above hold sentiments and ideas that I myself strongly disagree with.  Some of them force me to cry.  Some of them force me to cringe.  Some of them make me sigh in frustration.  ALL of them force me to drink at one point or another.

So some may wonder and ask: “why are you perpetuating any part of a message you don’t agree with?”

Good question.

Answer?  Because I am not afraid of ideas.

Ideas do not have the authority to play with my mind.  On the contrary, I play with ideas in my mind.  I don’t have a sense of ownership with ideas and neither should you.

“Ideas are simply tools in furthering our understanding of the things around us, not who we are.” – Puppet Masters –  Logicrats: A New Paradigm

I feel many students and faculty, namely in the university setting, have lost sight of this intellectual confidence.

Violence or the threat of violence is the last tool of the ill-equipped.  How unfortunate it is to witness such inadequacy on the same grounds that ought to be the pinnacle of our collective inquiry.

We must resist this invertebrate nature of our state of discourse. We must regain our intellectual confidence.  A confidence that is categorically in need to ensure our freedom as a people and great nation.

“To say the words, “I agree” – whether it’s agreeing to join an organization, or submit to a political authority, or subscribe to a religious faith – may be the basis of community.

But to say, I disagree; I refuse; you’re wrong; etiam si omnes – ego non – these are the words that define our individuality, give us our freedom, enjoin our tolerance, enlarge our perspective, seize our attention, energize our progress, make our democracies real, and give hope and courage to oppressed people everywhere.” – Bret Stephens – The Dying Art of Disagreement


“Have the confidence to look into the eyes of a shitty idea and not accept it – not because you were screened from its tenants but rather because you – yourself – see its limitations.” – RM

  1. As a USMC veteran, and although I find myself in staunch disagreement with the NFL protests and whether I think it is an appropriate time and place to express political views, I do not forget -even for a second- our First Amendment rights.
    As far as the violent protests and dismissal of people sharing ideas, albeit controversial, on university campuses, I can honestly say I am ashamed with how this new generation handles disagreement. I do, however, enjoy seeing many brilliant minds- although they disagree fundamentally on many ideas- band together to combat this new atrocity plaguing the brilliant (or perhaps not so brilliant) minds of the ‘Millennial’ Generation.



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