Players can take a knee, but protest comes with repercussions


By Douglas Gardner

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

(Editor’s note: Holly Audette, whose weekly column is published in our Wednesday edition, has taken a leave from her column-writing schedule to pursue other interests. Her column is scheduled to return later this fall.)

Of course, players in the National Football League have the right to take a knee during the National Anthem in protest of whatever they like.

Colin Kaepernick et al can even trot out to midfield during the anthem and hoist their middle fingers in the direction of Old Glory. They can be assured of the full protection of the US Constitution from any GOVERNMENT censure.

Fans and owners are another story.

Fans have a full suite of constitutional rights, too, including staying home from stadiums and changing the TV channel. Attendance and viewership suggest they are doing plenty of both, to the consternation of the owners.

Team owners aren't just selling football for profit. They are peddling nationalism, violence, sex, beer, pizza and erectile dysfunction medications. The first rule of successful commerce is, "Don't annoy the customers."

Nielsen reports that 85 percent of the fans tuning out pro football are white males. Monday through Friday many of them are tiptoeing around gender and ethnic sensibilities at work, lest they give unintended offense. If they turn on the network news at home, they'll hear themselves derided as deplorable racists, xenophobes and misogynists. By Sunday afternoon they just want to watch a meaningless game without the players putting a thumb in their eye.

The average NFL player is not much older than I was when I had my fling with high-minded civil disobedience. In 1972 I anticipated matriculating from college into a federal prison for draft resisters opposing the Vietnam war. This would endear me to future employers seeking a young man devoted to ideals, I believed.

The war ended as I finished college. Those ideals were never tested.

Soon enough I began an 11-year career in the newspaper business, the intended beneficiary of the First Amendment. My First Amendment rights were regularly abridged by editors and publishers. Their view was that if I wanted to express my opinions, I should start my own newspaper; preferably somewhere else.

Then came work at a series of financial firms where bosses piled on by throttling my First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly, Second Amendment right to bear arms and my Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

As a condition of continued employment at these places, I was forbidden to offer an opinion about the capital markets on my own LinkedIn or Facebook pages, barred from carrying a weapon into any of their offices, and required to submit to any questions posed by a compliance department lawyer. Annually my coworkers and I had to reapply for membership in subversive organizations like Rotary International, Catholic Knights of Columbus and the Chamber of Commerce. Volunteering for service with the local soup kitchen or the board of trustees at COA also was subject to a yearly thumbs up or down from the compliance folks.

The players may be right about their beef with police treatment of African-Americans by police. History proved me correct about Vietnam.

That doesn’t mean that employers or customers want to be lectured about it. There are effective ways to change the landscape around these issues.

Mr. Kaepernick revealed that he did not vote in 2016. Elections have consequences. Perhaps he can use his unemployed spare time to organize get-out-the-vote efforts this year and in 2020.

Doug Gardner is a resident of the Weeksville section of Pasquotank County.