By Leland Stein III, For The AfricanAmericanAthlete.com
DETROIT – It all seems so simple to me! One of the non-negotiable tenets of our United States Constitution is the First Amendment right of free speech.
Why don’t the Second Amendment rights advocates cajole for the First as passionately? Just wondering. After all, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are the bedrock of America’s uniqueness.
The First Amendment is a part of the Bill of Rights and the amendment which disables an entity or individual from practicing or enforcing a religious viewpoint which infringes on the freedom of speech, the right of peaceable assembly, the freedom of the press, or which prohibits the petitioning for a governmental evaluation of grievances.
With the urgings and admonishing’s of President Donald Trump, the National Football League recently proclaimed that players on teams that kneel for the national anthem, their teams would be discipline by instituting fines.
Protesting football players were extended with the option of remaining in their locker rooms until the anthem is over.
The owners instituted the new rules after players joined former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick in kneeling on the sidelines throughout last season to protest police brutality.
President Trump promptly chimed in and unleashed this anti First Amendment tirade: “Any players who kneel during the national anthem should not live in this country.”
What has happened to the “right of peaceable assemble” as outlined in our First Amendment? It is beyond amazing that our president is advocating for muzzling Americans, who happen to have compelling opinions that differ from Trump’s myopic views of American life.
He simply refuses to recognize or appreciate the expansive diversity that lives in the United States and the varying challenges that differing cultures face and endure.
It is shameful, dishonorable and reprehensible that the President and many of his minions continue to bastardize the players’ narrative concerning their peaceful attempt to draw attention to police brutality and a historically racist justice system.
There is a reason from the time one is old enough to read in the Black community, the phrase, “Just Us” is the acknowledged acronym for “Justice.”
Even NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, wondered aloud how the on-field protests created the false perception among fans that NFL players who participated in the protests were unpatriotic, hated military or law enforcement.
However, there are many that think the NFL’s action was simply aimed at their bottom line. Many projections claim the NFL rakes in $10 billion or more a year and don’t pay any taxes, and, is only worried about profits and image.
Trump played to his right-wing base during a rally in Alabama last September when he called NFL players who kneeled “sons of bitches.” He also encouraged fans to boycott the games when the protests occurred.
The NFL is 77 percent black. Is that just happenstance that many have taken arms against the players exercising their First Amendment rights?
One fact I know for sure is that the players protesting never had any intention of hating on the military, law enforcement or being unpatriotic. How easily Trump changes the discourse and how and why too many Americans have latched onto his negative invention, is simply disheartening.
I have interviewed many NFL players and have covered the league for over 30-years and many, many of the players have family members in the military and in law enforcement. Their plea for help and fairness was simply just that, nothing else.
Ironically, as the NFL unveiled its new rules, the same day Milwaukee Police released a video of police officers tasing and wrestling to ground Sterling Brown, Milwaukee Bucks rookie guard, in January following a very minor parking violation in a Walgreens parking lot.
The Milwaukee Bucks organization called what happened to Brown at the hands of police “shameful and inexcusable.” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and the city’s police chief Alfonso Morales have apologized to Brown.
Fact is this is a sad actuality for minority communities throughout America.
As far back as The Boston Tea Party in 1773, when protesters gathered in Boston Harbor to reject the latest shipment of tea from the East India Company, protest has been at the root of America’s development. The Colonist were speaking out against the Tea Act, that gave a British government-controlled company an effective monopoly. The colonists stormed the ships as they pulled into the harbor and chucked some 46 tons of tea overboard.
The real issue at hand, of course, was the colonists’ lack of representation in the British Parliament. That night, their cries reverberated near and far, and helped spur a movement that would see the states gain their independence from Mother England in just a few years’’ time.
Since that call to action in 1773, the United States has a very long history of peaceful and violent protest against perceived wrongdoings.
Henry David Thoreau, the Harvard-educated 19th-century philosopher, and poet remains a major symbol of peaceful resistance because of his 1849 work, “Civil Disobedience.” On account of his opposition to slavery, Thoreau refused to pay taxes, an act that briefly landed him in jail.
The Flint, Mich. sit-ins happened in 1936 at the Fisher Body Plant as United Auto Workers tried to organize their massive workforce. Within two weeks, about 135,000 men were striking in 35 cities across the nation. The movement solidified one of North America’s largest unions.
How can I forget Rosa Parks declaring enough is enough? Even though African Americans constituted some 70% of total bus ridership in Montgomery, Ala., people ofcolor were forced to sit in the back of the bus. She refused to give up her seat to a white man and was arrested for inciting the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It took an entire year of protest, arrest, and violence acted on the boycotters before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that made segregated seating
unconstitutional. Parks was known thereafter as the “mother of the civil-rights movement.”
How can Trump and others forget the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led First Amendment March on Washington to demand equal rights for African Americans and poor, where over 200,000 people gathered in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. There King delivered one of the greatest speeches ever, “I Have a Dream” and it awakened and galvanized a nation to action. The protest led to the successful passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
And my Mom and wife surely rejoice the 19th Amendment, which formally granted women the right to vote. The women’s-suffrage movement/protest dates as far back as the Revolutionary War, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott spearheaded the strong push for equal voting rights. In 1920 — 41 years after it had originally been drafted — Congress ratified an amendment that said: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”
How about track athletes Tommie Smith (first place) and John Carlos (third place) using their wins in Mexico City’s 1968 Olympic Games to show their opposition to the continued oppression of blacks in the U.S. They stood in black socks to represent black poverty; Carlos wore beads to symbolize black lynchings; together they raised their black-gloved fists in a cry for black unity.
What about the Vietnam War, where thousands of Americans sporting flowers over guns protested a perceived unjust war and gave their lives (re. Kent State massacre) and efforts to end that costly conflict.
My question to Trump is, “Should Stanton, Anthony or Mott; the flower children (now CEO’s); Ms. Parks; Smith or Carlos; all the UAW workers; Thoreau and/or the colonists been kicked out the country? Were they all “sons of bitches” as Trump proclaimed about the predominately African-American NFL players.
I know Trump is pandering to his base; however, it saddens me that more Americans than I could believe leaped on the negative bandwagon. Considering the history of the USA and its protest that have enacted positive change in this country, why did the NFL players deliberation cause so much divisiveness?
From the American Revolution through the civil rights era history, Irish, Italians, African Americans, Protestants, Catholics, Hispanics etc. al. have rallied around the First Amendment rights to do as King said “cash a check” against the U.S. Constitution that guarantees all the right of free speech, life and liberty for all.
Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall called the president’s remarks “disgusting” and said that while he doesn’t like the league’s new policy, he understands it.
“We’ve got freedom of speech, right? Freedom to protest? Just because somebody disagrees or has an issue with something that’s going on in this country, that doesn’t mean that they should pack up and leave,” Marshall told reporters in response to Trump’s comments.
That is not all, Trump also said, “Total disrespect of our heritage, a total disrespect of everything that we stand for.”
Our President really does not understand America’s true “heritage” of protest and has completely forgotten freedom of expression is right there in the First Amendment.
And our brave soldiers didn’t fight and die so that everyone would stand during the national anthem. They fought so people could have the right to make a choice about whether or not they wanted to stand. That’s the whole damn point of the First Amendment.
The thing is: We don’t live in a color-blind society. Slavery sits at the beginning ancestries of America. The goal of racial egalitarianism remains a goal, not an accomplishment. To fantasize otherwise is to willfully blind oneself to hundreds of years of history.
Somehow, we all have to get back to listening to each other and accepting our differences – somehow.
(Veteran sports columnist Leland Stein has traveled the world covering sports, from Olympic Games to NBA Finals and Super Bowls. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @LelandSteinIII)