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The debate over the NFL's national anthem policy has gradually become a litmus test for intelligence regarding public matters.

The latest silliness erupted when Jerry Jones, owner of the world's most valuable sports franchise, declared that his players would stand for the anthem with "toes on the line" if they wanted to remain Dallas Cowboys.

As if on cue, the social media social-justice mob accused Jones of racism and compared him to a slave owner. When Cowboy quarterback Dak Prescott expressed support for Jones' position, on the grounds that a football game was a dubious venue for protest, he was branded an "Uncle Tom" and a "lemonade serving house Negro" on Jones' plantation.

Given such idiocy, it might be worth restating some obvious truths, in the hope that our faith in the human capacity to employ logic can be at least partially restored.

First, this is not, and never has been, a First Amendment issue because there is no fine print in the U.S. Constitution which says employers must allow employees to protest in the workplace on company time (and wearing an NFL team's uniform on an NFL field before an NFL game certainly qualifies as company time).

Just as players have a right to take a knee before the anthem, owners like Jones should have a right to fire them for doing so (or doing anything else that he dislikes). Because the owners are the ones who write the checks, they get to make the rules. Players who object to those rules as a basis for continued employment are, of course, in this free country of ours, free to quit, and thereby free up lots more time to protest global warming, high cable-TV costs, the fate of the snail darter, or whatever else they feel aggrieved by.

That none have actually done so to this point, or even seriously threatened to, suggests that their concern for "social justice" doesn't run quite so deep as to risk losing those lucrative paychecks that slave owners like Jones hand out.

Nor, contrary to the players union's claims, are NFL owners preventing players from expressing political grievances -- like other employees in employee-employer relationships, those who work for an NFL team remain free to protest and participate in political life however they wish, so long as they do it on their own time.

Like the rest of us working stiffs, NFL players can write letters to the editor about this or that pet peeve, vote for whichever candidates they find least appalling, donate portions of their handsome compensation to political campaigns, give speeches and interviews in which they express all kinds of dumb opinions, and even, if the itch strikes, run for school board, dogcatcher, or any other public office.

What they can't do, however, is what the rest of us can't do, or at least can't do without suffering consequences, which is to engage in behavior that offends customers (in this case fans) and thereby jeopardizes profits for their employer. When we do such things and pay for it in the form of unemployment, talk of "rights" or "silencing" is mere twaddle.

What the protesting players and their media cheerleaders are thus actually demanding is a special right that no other employees have -- to use the workplace and their employers' time as they see fit, in this case to pursue their pet political causes.

It is consequently left unclear how far this previously undiscovered right to workplace protest extends, or what constitutes an acceptable "cause" on behalf of which to exercise it. Along those lines, the hunch is that those supporting the anthem protests might be a bit less enthusiastic if the players were white instead of black and kneeling in opposition to the removal of Confederate statues rather than racial injustice.

In America we have a glorious and insufficiently appreciated right, which our government cannot infringe upon, to make fools of ourselves with our public utterances, to even hold a news conference in which you denounce your country for political oppression while wearing a T-shirt with Fidel Castro on it, as the guy who started the whole kneeling shtick (Colin Kaepernick) once did.

But the fact that Kaepernick is still unemployed says only that there is a cost in life to behaving like a jerk (and most people think kneeling before the national anthem is an especially jerky thing to do, whatever the rationale); more precisely, a cost to going out of your way to offend your company's customers, in this case the people who buy the game tickets and paraphernalia and watch on television.

Or not.

The issue, then, isn't "free speech," since obnoxious speech is protected only from governmental repercussion, but not the rights of employers to establish rules for conduct in the workplace, without which no business could properly function.

There is, of course, a word for arrangements whereby employers are able to set the rules and employees can accept those rules or take their labor and skills someplace else. And customers are able to purchase or decline to purchase the products that that company is offering.

And that word is the opposite of slavery.

Freelance columnist Bradley R. Gitz, who lives and teaches in Batesville, received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Illinois.

Editorial on 08/06/2018

Print Headline: Anthem brain freeze

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