Courts Have Brutal Message for Protesting NFL Players

Ever since the national anthem protests began in the NFL, we’ve heard the term “free speech” and references to the First Amendment bandied about in sports reports about as often as talk of play action or the fade route — with a lot less understanding.

“Jeff Sessions Defends Free Speech And Donald Trump’s NFL Attacks In The Same Breath,” read one Huffington Post headline. “Free Speech Isn’t Selective,” the title of a U.S. News and World Report piece that criticized the president read.

For everyone who’s used this argument, the First Amendment protects people from suffering any consequence of speaking their mind. (Provided, of course, what’s on their mind is sufficiently liberal.) In this line of thought, the idea that NFL players could be fired for refusing to stand for the anthem — what President Trump was recommending — is totally incompatible with the First Amendment. For the left, free speechequals consequence-free speech (again, as long as its liberal).

Unfortunately for them, the courts disagree.

“There is no federal law protecting against discrimination or retaliation for political activity” in the private sector, Workplace Fairness senior adviser Paula Brantner told TheWrap. “A lot of people think they have First Amendment rights, but those only apply to government employees.”

The poster boy for this is James Damore, the man behind the Google manifesto that claimed the company was too politically correct, particularly on issues of gender. Even though Google tried to play it off that they supported “free speech” outside of the workplace, he was still fired.

“First, let me say that we strongly support the right of Googlers to express themselves, and much of what was in that memo is fair to debate, regardless of whether a vast majority of Googlers disagree with it,” Google Chief Executive Sundar Pichai said in a memo, according to MarketWatch. “However, portions of the memo violate our Code of Conduct and cross the line by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.”

Thus, if your code of conduct prohibits certain forms of speech, employers can pretty much fire you at will. It’s brutal, but it’s true.

And California, where Damore worked, is one of the few states that protects employees for political speech away from the workplace.

That’s not even in question with the NFL protests, though. They’re not just happening at the workplace, they’re happening right on the field — as part of a ceremony almost every American understands. The players have literally no legal recourse if an owner decides to fire them for kneeling during the anthem, no court is so infested with kangaroos that it would even give them a chance.

The NFL has shown no impetus to fire players who disrespect the anthem as of yet. If there’s enough of a backlash, however, that could change. And there’s nothing that “free speech” will be able to do for them.

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Source: Conservative Tribune