by Alan Ferdman
This past week it all hit the fan, with NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem. Notice, I did not call it a protest. It seems the basis of what they are, and are not, protesting, along with who is telling their story, is changing daily. One thing I know for sure, the players, owners and the league are shooting themselves in the foot by alienating a large element of their fan base. It is often said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and in this case the quote is dead on.
What is going on today takes me back to the 1970s, when some top entertainers essentially ended their careers by adding political commentaries at the closing of their shows. Gone from the small screen were, first, the Smothers Brothers, and then the Carol Burnett Show. Viewers watch entertainers because they want to be entertained, not lectured. When an entertainer uses their celebrity status to push a political agenda, they end up watching their ratings tank.
Yet, a fair number of our residents who watched the NFL players take a knee during the National Anthem yell, “Players have the right of ‘free speech’ and the constitution gives them the ‘right to protest.’” But, that is only partially true. Gaining credibility is a long, hard process, but losing credibility comes fast and easy.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
It simply means the government will not pass laws preventing us from expressing our opinion. When writing this article, I do not have to worry about the police showing up to arrest me or the government imprisoning me for expressing my views. Try doing the same in North Korea and see how well it works out for you.
What the First Amendment does not do is free you from the consequences of what you say. If you make a statement and others do not agree, expect them to let you know. Why? Because they are not obligated to agree with you or give you a pass on what you have said. They also have the right to express their opinion. In too many instances on social media today, people get irate when someone disagrees with them and the name-calling starts. Too often, talking points, name calling, or out-of-context snippets are used to morph any situation into a case to support their worldview. I believe when a person resorts to name-calling or talking points, they do so because they have no compelling or constructive comment to make.
Then comes the question, “Do you have the right to protest at work?” The way I see it, when you agree to work for someone, your employer agrees to compensate you for providing them a service. You become their representative, and as such, you are expected to provide a positive image of the company, complete your assigned tasks in a reasonable manner, and in some cases, comply with the expectations documented in a personnel manual. Should the company ask you to do something you feel is immoral, illegal or in violation of your core beliefs, you have an obligation to make the situation known to your employer, and if you feel strongly enough about it, you can quit. At the same time, if your employer decides you are not meeting the company’s policies, or your work is below par, your employer has every right to discontinue your employment.
Also, every company and employer has a customer base and when a company’s product or service no longer meets their needs, or the customer finds similar or superior services at a lower cost, they are free to spend their money elsewhere. Successful companies know, to stay in business they must continually improve everything they do. If you do not maintain a positive company image, either by no longer providing excellent service or by disrespecting the consumers, customers will change suppliers. I’m betting each of you has changed where you spend your money a time or two, for just this reason.
So now, let’s apply this to the NFL. Do players have the right to speak their minds? Of course they do. At the same time, they should realize, team members making millions of dollars each year may come across in a very positive way when providing aid to those in need. They are examples of the benefits of skill and hard work. But showcasing the players’ status as successful millionaires who are living a financially privileged lifestyle will provide little chance of convincing their fans they are victims of persecution. Fans live a far less privileged life and indirectly pay the players’ salaries. They are the NFL’s customers.
For kneeling during the National Anthem, I blame the owners and league management for letting this happen. The NFL long ago set up rules to keep political protests off the fields. When this started it was up to the owners and league management to enforce the rule and keep the NFL from falling down this kind of rat hole. One can only speculate why they did not live up to their responsibilities, but they made a very bad decision. Letting the players do whatever they want to do may have already caused irreparable harm to the league.
The other part of this issue is, some individuals portray the players as believing in free speech, supporting our troops, and loving our country. Why, then, would they not be standing proudly and showing support for the freedoms we all believe in? Is the country perfect? Of course not; it is a work in progress. There are still whites who hate blacks and blacks who hate whites. There are people who hate Jews, Muslims, Irish, Italians, Indians, etc. But these individuals are becoming a smaller minority in our country all the time.
I lived in Brooklyn, New York when Jackie Robinson took the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers and he became one of my boyhood heroes. In 1952, when I was 10, my family moved to Miami Beach, Florida for a year. It was a time when black individuals were still fearful of initiating a conversion with whites and stepped off the curb as a white person walked by. Coming from New York, I was confused by what I saw and did not understand what was going on until years later. We moved out to California when I was 12. I got to listen to XERB from Mexico with “Wolfman Jack” playing music in Hollywood. It took a while for me to understand also, much of the music I was listening to by Fats Domino, Little Richard, Johnnie Otis and many more were not being played on the East Coast at that time. That kind of bigotry is in the past.
The United States has come a very long way. By God’s good graces and the counsel of men and women like Dr. King, the majority of our population believes we should “judge a person by their character rather than the color of their skin.” If we want to continue down this just and righteous road, it is absolutely necessary we continue to have respectful, honest dialog. I’m betting we will agree on a lot more than you can imagine.
To make it all happen, I ask you to stand with me, stand with your hand over your heart for the National Anthem and our flag. Pledge to boycott name-calling, bigotry, and religious prejudice. Our journey as individuals and a country is not over. Pledge to not step backwards and vilify someone because they look different from you, pray differently than you do, or simply do not agree with something you have said.
That is what the United States is all about, and that is why I am proud to be an American.