In 2016, Colin Kaepernick engaged in a silent, nonviolent protest by taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at NFL games. Colin’s purpose in taking a knee was to raise awareness to the number of minorities that have been beaten or killed at the hands of law enforcement personnel across this country. As a result of his protest, NFL owners have not hired Kaepernick even though they have employed individuals that have been convicted of serious crimes such as sexual assault or domestic violence; it is not a crime to protest. Several NFL owners have stated on the record that they refuse to hire Colin because of a fear of sponsors pulling their advertisements at NFL games or that a portion of its fan base would create a backlash (some of that backlash occurred last season). Although NFL owners acknowledge of the possible backlash from certain of their fan base, they have assumed that there would be no backlash from the African American community even though that community makes up approximately 15% of the NFL’s overall viewership. In addition, although the NFL owners have decided to arbitrarily silence one player who took a stand under his First Amendment rights for issues that are important to the African American community, the owners also assumed that African Americans will continue to watch NFL games and purchase products that have been endorsed by the NFL.
Kaepernick has filed a grievance against the NFL that its owners colluded to keep him from being hired when he reached free agency status. It has been recently reported that internal team documents reviewed in relation to the grievance shows that teams viewed Kaepernick as a starting quarterback in 2017. Up to this point, the big dispute has been whether Kaepernick has been unemployed for football-related reasons or because of his controversial protests. If the decision on the grievance shows that Kaepernick has been blacklisted by the league for his decision to kneel, then he may be entitled to millions of dollars in lost wages and damages.
If, however, his collusion case against the NFL and its team owners fails, Kaepernick may have another option by suing Trump and the NFL for violating his First Amendment rights. Trump spent much of the past year condemning the protests of predominantly black players to the delight of his political base, and he has repeatedly called on NFL owners to prohibit players from protesting. Last September in a campaign rally in Alabama, Trump urged team owners to fire any “son of a bitch” player who protested. Trump’s demagoguery has had an obvious effect on the NFL owners, who recently approved a new policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem if they are on the field before games. (It should also be noted that the NFL receives financial support from US tax payers.) This past Monday, June 4th, Trump blamed anthem protests for the abrupt cancellation of the Philadelphia Eagles’ visit to the White House even though no members of the team knelt during the 2017 season. Trump’s actions may have opened him up to claims that he and the NFL violated Kaepernick’s First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful protest if Trumps threats against the league helped force owners to institute the new policy or influenced their treatment of protesting players.
If Colin Kaepernick is willing to take a knee because of an important issue to people of color, shouldn’t the Black and Brown community and their sympathizers stand with him by refusing to watch NFL games or purchase any product endorsed by the NFL until he is either reinstated as an NFL player or his grievance is satisfactorily resolved, but that’s just my take?