Kaepernick Has A Right To Free Expression. And So Does Everyone Else

Kaepernick Has A Right To Free Expression. And So Does Everyone Else

Social conservatives. The wealthy. The politically incorrect. Corporations. And so on.

San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick won’t stand for the national anthem, because, well, he isn’t a very bright guy. Sorry, but if you’re going to wear a shirt praising Fidel Castro and then protest the lack of “freedom, liberty, justice for all” in America, we have no cause to take your arguments seriously.  The hypocritical reaction to his protest, though, is another story.

The 49ers organization says it recognizes “the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the National Anthem.” Good. There’s no reason the franchise should try to inhibit Kaepernick from protesting perceived injustice. When people clamor to get people fired for taking unpopular political positions they contribute to an environment that chills speech (though it looks like Kaepernick may lose his job for being bad at it.) I remember defending Helen Thomas – a vile anti-Semite who also happened to be the doyenne of the DC chattering class – for this very reason. If free people have fainting spells every time off-putting rhetoric wafts into their ears, soon enough organizations that work to stifle speech – ThinkProgress, and the like – will be dictating what acceptable discourse looks like. Then, even innocuous thoughts that fail to adhere to a certain worldviews will be considered off limits.

Then again, sometimes I wonder if most people understand that private organizations often have a right to fire people who embarrass them or hurt their franchises. While Kaepernick has a right to tell us what’s on his mind, he has no inherent right to be backup QB making over $100 million in the NFL.  This was not readily apparent to anyone paying attention to the media over the weekend. As I scanned ESPN and cable news, I heard a lot about how Kaepernick was merely “starting a conversation” — because, God knows, no one ever discusses race issues in this country anymore – or how he should be commended  for “standing up” up for his principles.

You know, I don’t remember comparable apprehension from these modern-day Voltaires when the NBA moved its All–Star Game because North Carolinians stood on their principles and decided they wanted to continue to have sex-specific bathrooms in their schools. If you like what Kaepernick has to say, embrace it. Stop pretending you care about open discourse.

I certainly don’t remember too many of these sports journalists defending the integrity of free expression and principle when Curt Schilling was fired by ESPN for sharing some dumb post on Facebook. Liberals didn’t seem troubled about Brendan Eich being forced to step down as CEO of Mozilla — not even for being an open apostate on gay rights, but for donating money to a state initiative years before. And I don’t recall that too many people were worried about free expression when the owners of an Indiana pizza shop were hounded from their business by angry progressives for having offered a blasphemous answer to a hypothetical question about same-sex marriage.

Let’s also remember, the sanctity of free speech was not a big topic when the failed economic protests against Chick-fil-A (the CEO is a fan of traditional marriage; get him!) or Hobby Lobby (it was involved in a law suit defending the other part of the First Amendment) kicked off.

It’s true that athletes have an outsized influence in the media. But even the wealthiest among us shouldn’t be inhibited from having a say. So after watching liberals at the DNC cheer for laws allowing the banning of political books and movies, it’s nice to see some renewed passion regarding free expression. After watching progressive mobs go after Americans who support traditional marriage, maybe we’re going to see more compassion regarding opposing viewpoints. Maybe professional sports leagues and sports networks will stop injecting themselves into political and social debates.

Or, more likely, it will always depend on the topic.

David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of the new book, First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today. Follow him on Twitter.
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