Subject: Want to protest Trump? Disrespecting the flag is a disgraceful way todo it
Marc Thiessen: Want to protest Trump? Disrespecting the flag is a
disgraceful way to do it
Marc Thiessen By Marc Thiessen, Fox News
Showdown over anthem protests: NFL ratings taking a hit?
Editor's Note: The following column first appeared in The
This weekend, the more than 100 NFL players who refused to stand during
the national anthem were met with boos from crowds in stadiums across
America — and deservedly so.
Playing in London, Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars players
wouldn’t stand for the U.S. national anthem but did for “God Save the
Queen” in the very country we fought to win our independence.
Worse, the players held their disgraceful protest on National Gold Star
Mother’s Day, the day our country honors mothers who have lost children
in war. A Gold Star mother whose son died in Afghanistan told CNN last
year that when she first saw players taking a knee, “my heart kind of
stopped and I lost my breath because the flag that I see is the flag
that draped my son’s casket.” Imagine what she and other Gold Star
mothers felt seeing 100 players do the same on the very day our country
set aside to thank them.
Way to go, NFL.
In Pittsburgh, only one player — Alejandro Villanueva — a former Army
Ranger who lost brothers in arms fighting under that flag — came out of
the locker room to stand for the anthem. He was criticized for doing so
by his coach. The fans’ response? Sales of Villanueva jerseys skyrocketed.
What these players don’t seem to understand is that Americans gave their
lives so that they could have the freedom to play a kids’ game for a
living. When players disrespect the flag, they disrespect that
sacrifice. And it would not matter if they had done so to protest Donald
Trump or Barack Obama — their actions would be equally offensive. If NFL
players want to protest the president, they have plenty of other ways.
Attend a rally. Speak out on Twitter. Tell the media after the game, “I
stood up for America but I stand against Donald Trump.” But don’t show
contempt for the flag.
Were President Trump’s comments urging owners to fire players who
refused to stand incendiary? Sure. Were they politically calculated? No
doubt. But that does not change the fact that he is right. And he did
not start this fight. Colin Kaepernick and a handful of players did.
Moreover, Trump is not the first president to speak out against
disrespect for the flag. In 1988, Republican George H.W. Bush excoriated
his Democratic opponent, Michael Dukakis, for vetoing a bill requiring
Massachusetts teachers to lead their students in the Pledge of
Allegiance. As president he proposed a constitutional amendment to
outlaw desecration of the flag.
Yes, athletes do have a constitutional right to engage in speech that is
offensive to millions of Americans. But the First Amendment does not
protect them from the consequences of their offensive speech. There is
no constitutional right to play professional football. If an NFL player
stood on the sidelines and hurled racial epithets, his speech would be
protected by the First Amendment. He would also be fired.
The NFL’s game operations manual says that “all players must be on the
sideline for the National Anthem” and must “stand at attention, face the
flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking” or face
discipline “such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft
choice(s).” The league regularly penalizes players for dancing in the
end zone, but it allows players to violate the rules regarding the
national anthem with impunity.
The NFL is also selective when it comes to the kind of speech it
protects. Last September, the Dallas Cowboys asked for permission to
wear helmet stickers in honor of police officers massacred in Dallas
earlier last year. The league refused. So the NFL will not allow players
to express their support for police with a tiny helmet decal, but it
lets them disrespect the flag while distorting the work of police
officers across the country?
The players’ behavior is hurting the league. NFL viewership is at its
lowest point since 1998, and ESPN reports that “national anthem protests
were the top reason that NFL fans watched fewer games last season,
according to a new survey released by J.D. Power.” Indeed, “Sunday Night
Football” had its worst ratings of the season this weekend, as millions
of Americans turned off their sets in disgust.
If the NFL won’t stop its players from disrespecting the flag, then
maybe Congress should take a second look at some of the federal benefits
the NFL enjoys. For example, the NFL gets a special antitrust exemption
in U.S. law. Democrats in Congress have already been debating whether
the league should be stripped of this exemption because of its weak
response to domestic violence allegations against players. Perhaps
Republicans angry over anthem protests will now be willing to join them?
And this might also be a good time for some public hearings into the
NFL’s efforts to interfere with concussion research at the National
Institutes of Health.
Last year, National Hockey League coach John Tortorella declared, “If
any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will
sit there the rest of the game.”
Hey, NFL, take a cue from the NHL. Every coach and owner should tell his
players the same.
Marc Thiessen is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
(AEI). Thiessen served as chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush
and to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.