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As the NFL season enters its seventh week of play, no storyline is more controversial and emotionally charged than players’ pregame protests.
Over the course of the season, some players have used the time during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutailty by taking a knee or raising a fist.
This collective outcry of players has divided the nation. One side asserts that the NFL or team owners must discipline players for disrespecting the anthem and the flag of their country.
The other camp praises the players for using their presence on national television to increase awareness of the issues at hand.
I find the entire situation perplexing.
I understand the players’ desire to see change in their country, and acknowledge and fully support their right to lobby for that change however they see fit.
If they wish to act in a manner that many believe disrespects the flag, they are exercising the very right to free speech guaranteed to them by the First Amendment, protected by our military, and represented by the flag.
The idea that the powers that be should prevent players from protesting in this manner is unconstitutional, and defies what the flag represents more than the protests themselves.
Although players can protest in this manner, they should not for two reasons.
First, and most importantly, kneeling during the national anthem polarizes their audience.
The group that ardently supports what the players stand (or rather, kneel) for generally will approve of their method of protest.
On the other hand, those who disagree with the players’ pregame demonstrations of discontent will accuse them of disrespecting the flag.
This effectively closes the minds of the group of people the players strive to impact before they are able to convey their message.
Second, kneeling for the anthem is so controversial that it distracts from the issues the players are attempting to address.
The entire uproar in the media has been with regard to the protests themselves, with next to no coverage devoted to police brutality and racial inequality.
The protesting players drown out their own voices when they choose to demonstrate in such a controversial manner.
NFL players have a large fan base and can speak at events, organize city council meetings and encourage others to raise awareness on social media, all without removing the public’s attention from their cause entirely.
That way, many Americans would not have to choose between supporting a vital awareness campaign and respecting their country.
The two must not be mutually exclusive in order for change to occur.