Colin Kaepernick has reached an agreement with the National Football League over what amounts to the loss of his job for exercising his rights. The agreement, announced in mid-February, resolves the former 49ers quarterback’s claim of collusion that kept him from playing, after he knelt when the national anthem was played pre-game. A teammate, Eric Reid, also knelt and was part of the settlement.
Because it’s subject to a nondisclosure agreement, the public may never know for certain how much the NFL paid for its decision to punish players it deemed insufficiently patriotic — possibly at the behest of a draft-dodging, racist president, who railed “get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”
There’s a caveat to all this, of course: a private employer doesn’t necessarily have an obligation to protect the First Amendment. It does have the obligation, though, not to scheme to destroy former employers’ career prospects.
Further, Kaepernick’s signed agreement hardly puts the matter to rest. The public remains divided over whether standing for the anthem is a right or an obligation. (Spoiler alert: It isn’t an obligation.) And it’s seen in cases that continue to crop up, despite settled law.
As of February, a Florida boy was facing misdemeanor charges of “disruption” of a class. The source of the disruption? A substitute teacher’s disturbing ignorance of school district policy for Polk County Public Schools, Florida law — and the Constitution she thought she was honoring by ordering the student, 11, to stand up.
According to published reports: The sixth-grader refused to stand because he views the flag as “racist,” then got into a disagreement with the sub, who asked why he didn’t go to another place to live. The child replied “they brought me here.” The sub in turn said he could always go back, “because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore, I would find another place to live.”
What happened next has not been made entirely clear from media reports.
The teacher called the school office to deal with the child, who then reportedly refused to leave class after being told multiple times to do so. The boy also allegedly made threats while being taken to the office — allegations his mother later disputed.
It may not be that he was arrested specifically for “not standing,” as some reports have characterized it, but whatever the disruption was, it clearly arose from him exercising his rights.
Those yearning for the days when “the pledge was said in school” appear unaware that the pledge is still said in most schools. It’s just that it cannot be mandatory, and this was established in the 1943 Supreme Court case, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette. In this decision, the high court reversed a case from three years earlier, which held students who were Jehovah’s Witnesses could be compelled to recite the pledge. The 1943 ruling held the free speech clause of the First Amendment barred schools from making the pledge — or saluting the flag — mandatory.
Yet, in 2017, a Texas teen was briefly expelled for not reciting the pledge — and when she sued, the state’s attorney general filed to intervene … on behalf of the school’s unconstitutional policy, which itself was based on an unconstitutional Texas law requiring students to say the pledge, or opt out with parental consent.
The plaintiff, India Landry, reportedly reached a confidential settlement in late 2018.
At the heart of such incidents: emotion- driven ignorance that kicks into high gear whenever the pledge or anthem comes up.
Simply put, people confuse the appearance of patriotism (saluting a flag) with the substance of patriotism — to the point of overlooking the fact that coerced loyalty is not loyalty, but the very definition of “big government,” and what occurs in dictatorships. That is true, even if one happens to like the show of loyalty that is required.
In the wake of the protest movement Kaepernick triggered, people boycotted the NFL, filled social media with inaccurate posts about “the pledge not being said in schools,” and, in the case of one Colorado Springs shopkeeper, refused to sell Nike products after the athletic apparel giant signed Kap for an ad campaign: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Stephen Martin, owner of Prime Time Sports, took that to heart. He boycotted Nike, deeply discounting thousands of dollars worth of existing Nike merchandise he had in stock.
He recently announced his business will close: Martin, according to published reports, is on the hook for the merchandise he was contracted to sell, as well as for his building lease, so he’s going out of business and into debt.
In one respect, he too, took a stand (so to speak) for his beliefs. He does not deserve mockery, even if the Constitution does not protect against bad business decisions the way it protects free speech.
But he also missed the same basic point that most people — who understandably appreciate what the flag represents, as well as appreciate the military — miss when they get stirred up about patriotic symbols. In an interview with national publications, Martin stated: “You don’t trample over the men who have given Colin Kaepernick and me the right to free speech.”
First, rights are not “given.” They exist as part of the fundamental human condition and are either guaranteed by government or not. They are either protected by law, custom and, when necessary, military force, or they are denied by same. But “the government” did not “give” us the right to protest. It enshrined the right into law. It may seem like hair-splitting, but there is a difference.
More to the point: If the objection to kneeling during the anthem is that it somehow “disrespects” veterans who “fought for our rights,” what, exactly, should we do with these hard-won rights? Put them on a shelf, so we can point and declare: “Behold! Our beautiful rights!”?
This notion is offered as a deliberate absurdity to underscore the obvious answer: We honor those who sacrificed for our rights by exercising those rights, or else those people sacrificed for nothing.
So, exercise your rights by standing for the anthem or pledge, if you want. Exercise them by remaining seated at your middle school desk. Exercise them by kneeling on the sidelines of a football field while the anthem is played.
Exercise them by boycotting the NFL, if what players are doing angers you — that’s your right, too. Or, in the case of Martin, boycott Nike, even if it costs you your business.
But understand our rights either exist for all of us or, if they can be revoked or curtailed based on the strength of public outrage, they don’t technically exist for any of us.
Katharhynn Heidelberg is an award-winning journalist in Montrose, Colo.