It is not a free speech issue. There’s no such thing as free speech when you are working as an employee unless your boss permits it.
Sadly, that’s where the 49ers management missed it entirely last year when Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the National Anthem. He was in uniform and on the field—as an employee.
He should have been fined and/or suspended and that would have taken care of it. Of course, that would have required owner Jed York standing up as the employer and exercising his authority. The NFL could have taken a similar action. Instead, both passed and it grew into the current situation, sparked when President Trump told a campaign rally that protesting players should be fired—a sentiment many in America share.
If Kaepernick wanted to protest and did so in downtown San Francisco on his day-off, that’s entirely within his rights and the team would have nothing to say about it.
I learned the truth about freedom of speech years ago as a newspaper editor. The publisher owns the press—not the editor. The buck stopped with the publisher, who had overall responsibility for the enterprise, and I edited the news within the parameters he set. Traditionally, many publishers have taken a hands-off approach when it comes to news coverage, leaving those decisions to editors. I was fortunate to work for this type of publisher.
The protests during last weekend’s games, some involving owners on the field, demonstrated just how out-of-touch the NFL is with average Americans who regard the flag and National Anthem as nearly sacred American symbols and traditions. It also brought politics deep into what traditionally has been stadiums free of such concerns.
NFL television ratings are not what they have been and there are stadiums with empty seats—particularly in Santa Clara where the 49ers were offering $15 tickets to try and get butts into those empty red seats for the Rams last week. In Los Angeles on the opening weekend, the combination of the Rams and the Chargers drew fewer fans than USC did for its home game at the Coliseum. And those owners worked real hard to move—both must be hoping mightily that a new stadium sparks interest.
The NFL, with the statements from commissioner and various owners plus the acceptance of the protests, allowed the Genie to escape from the bottle. Stuffing it back in will be nearly impossible, but we will see what plays out over the next few weeks.
I was listening to one caller on talk radio whose family routinely celebrates football Sundays with a gathering, food and drink. He related that his seven-year-old son saw the protest during the National Anthem and joined with his 10-year-old sister to demand they turn the game off. The kids understand-why not the owners and the players.
So, this evening, tune in for a replay of the President’s Cup or catch a debut of a new season of a TV show—leave the pigskin channel off.