Further Thoughts on NFL Players’ Protests

by Don Boudreaux on September 25, 2017

in Current Affairs, Philosophy of Freedom

Here, in no particular order, are some of my further thoughts on what I believe many people get wrong or miss about the peaceful protests of many NFL players during the playing of the national anthem, and of Trump’s ignorant response.

– Contrary to the implication of many pundits, the fact that most of the protesting NFL players are millionaires is utterly irrelevant.  Everyone from the poorest pauper to the richest billionaire is a human being who has a right to express his or her thoughts in whatever peaceful ways he or she chooses.

– To defend the right of people to peacefully express their opinions is not thereby to express or to imply agreement with the protestors on the substantive issues at stake.

– Earning a living – even a magnificently high-paying living by playing a game – is not, contrary to Trump’s assertion, a “privilege.”  Instead, it’s the result, in a market economy, of a voluntary contract between an employer and the employee.  We do not earn our livings by the good graces, and through the generous permission, of the state.  To put the matter mildly, government is no more responsible for the existence of such employmment opportunities than are countless, mostly unseen actions of millions of other individuals.  In the case of NFL players, for example, the owners and executives of the National Football League are far more directly responsible for these players’ opportunities to earn handsome salaries and great fame than is Uncle Sam, and yet, correctly, no one believes that NFL players should pay homage to the NFL logo or to any theme song that the NFL might declare to be its anthem.  (My dear friend Kerry Dugas reminds me that the NFL benefits from much government cronyism.  I agree, but that fact is even more reason not to insist on paying homage to symbols of the state.)

– I agree that Donald Trump has as much of a right as do others to peacefully express his opinions.  But this fact does not render invalid or hypocritical any criticisms of the substance of Trump’s expressed opinions.  Specifically here, it is both correct and appropriate to criticize Trump for asserting (as he did in his now-infamous tweet) that individuals who earn millions of dollars in private employment “should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem.”  Put differently, it is perfectly correct and appropriate to criticize Trump for suggesting that a condition for holding a high-paying private-sector job in America is that those who hold such jobs show what is widely held to be minimum proper deference to symbols of the state.

– Whatever the merits or demerits of Trump’s or of anyone else’s opposition to NFL players’ protests, if anyone is genuinely bothered by actions that ‘disrespect’ America, that someone should have in his or her sight a far larger and more significant target, namely, members of Congress and other government officials who regularly disrespect the Constitution by ignoring and violating it.  Where’s the criticism of members of Congress who mock the Constitution by pretending to find in that document the authority to do what that document does not authorize them to do, such as (to pick only a few examples) subsidizing farmers, using tax dollars to fund a government-run pension scheme, preventing workers from agreeing to work at hourly wages below a government-set minimum, and restricting the amount of resources that private individuals may contribute to political campaigns?  In this light it’s fair to ask: Do professional athletes who refuse to stand for the playing of the national anthem undermine and ‘disrespect’ America’s core values anywhere nearly as much as these values are undermined and disrespected by the countless government officials, elected and appointed, who daily act in disregard for the Constitution that each of them took a solemn oath to uphold?

UPDATE: One other point: I’d have no objection at all, as a matter of principle, to either the NFL as a league, or to any individual NFL franchise, insisting that a condition of employment is that the player stand for the playing of the national anthem.  While such a condition of employment in the NFL would make me less likely to watch NFL games – because I detest state-worship – I also recognize that it’s none of my business what conditions of employment the NFL voluntarily agrees to with its workers.  (By the way, I myself never pledge allegiance to any flag or sing any national anthem, although when such statist ceremonies are conducted in my presence I stand for them in order not to embarrass whoever is my host who brought me to whatever event might begin with such ceremonies.)


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