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Can NFL Players Protesting the National Anthem Be Fired?
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National Anthem

Summary: President Donald Trump is trying to apply his slogan “You’re fired” to NFL players protesting the national anthem, but can the players be fired legally?

President Donald Trump has an issue with National Football League players not standing for the national anthem before each game. At a rally in Alabama Trump said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’”


Starting last year, a growing number of NFL players have been taking a knee during the national anthem to protest police brutality of unarmed black men. The action has been seen with mixed support and criticism. There are a number of critics that would love to see those players fired, but can they be fired legally?

Sean Illing at Vox decided to investigate if the players could legally be fired by asking several legal experts. The issue is that the people have the constitutional right to exercise their free speech but they are part of a private company – the NFL. Professor Keith Whittington at Princeton University said, “The First Amendment to the US Constitution is specifically designed to limit government officials and not private businesses.”

Law professor Jessica Levinson at Loyola Law School further explained, “This is a contracts question, not a constitutional question. The issue boils down to whether or not NFL owners have the contractual right to fire players for this type of behavior. The answer is ‘likely yes.’”

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The NFL is a private entity so the First Amendment protections do not apply. As Georgetown University law professor Susan Bloch explains, the Constitution only pertains to what the government can do. Trump, as the president, cannot punish the players for choosing to express themselves by protesting the national anthem or force the NFL to punish the players. The NFL, as a private company, has every right to punish players for breaking their rules and breaking team contracts.

Now the question comes down to if the NFL and team contracts include any points regarding freedom of expression or national anthem guidelines. Although Ohio State University law professor Ric Simmons doubts that the NFL has such limits in their contracts. While team owners have the power to discipline players that ruin “public respect” for the game, pinpointing an interpretation of this broad term will be difficult.

Even with much of the law on the side of the NFL and its owners to be prosecute protesting players, there likely will be quite the backlash. The ability of the player to be punished or fired would also depend on the state since some states have anti-discrimination laws. However, there has been heavy criticism from those wanting to see some time of punishment for what they view as “disrespect” to the country’s armed forces by refusing to stand for the anthem.

Do you think the players’ actions should be protected by the Constitution? Share with us your thoughts in the comments below.

To learn more about other problems the NFL has had to deal with, read these articles:



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