Of Kaepernick, Free Speech, Free Association…

The controversy over unemployed NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick not yet landing a job with team—including teams with worse QBs than him—is not particularly complicated when viewed through the eyes and experience of everyday, average Americans, especially those with even somewhat high-profile jobs.

Kaepernick famously chose to kneel during the pregame playing of the national anthem when he was with the San Francisco 49ers. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Former S.F. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.


That’s a view many people in the country share (although it’s not shared by me). Kaepernick has every right to not stand for the national anthem just as he doesn’t have to pledge allegiance to the flag or in any way recognize American society as it is. He has a right to free expression.

However, for some reason, Kaepernick and his supporters think that’s where the issue ends—he has expressed his beliefs and now it’s time for an NFL team to step up and sign him. That’s not how it works; not under our Constitution and certainly not under the American ethos of employer-employee relationships.

The would-be employers in this scenario—NFL teams and their owners—have every right to craft a certain image that they think will help them succeed in their business. If they think signing Kapernick would do more damage than good to the team, they are under no obligation to employ him. No matter how good he is (or isn’t).

I think of it this way: I have held a number of positions in my working adult life in which I had a relatively high profile. I appeared on TV and radio as a national spokesman for a nonprofit in Manhattan, as communications director for a political caucus in the Connecticut General Assembly and in various public roles in-between and after. In each role, I knew that anything I said publicly would affect my standing with my employer, especially if I said it while I was working. I had a right to say whatever I wanted (save the “‘fire’ in a crowded theatre” example). But I know there will be consequences.

Freedom of speech and expression does not mean freedom from any consequences resulting from that speech and expression. Kaepernick’s decision to make a statement by kneeling for the national anthem does not negate the team owners’ right of association. Why should Kaepernick get a job when anyone else would be drummed out of theirs for doing something similar? Because he’s a football player? Because there is some public sentiment for his stance? I don’t think so.

The same is true in the case of the briefly Harvard-accepted nitwits who had their tickets to the esteemed institute of higher learning yanked after their moronic online actions. According to the Harvard Crimson, a handful of admitted students formed a messaging group on Facebook called, “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens.” Swell.

Harvard University.


“The students sent each other memes mocking sexual assault, the Holocaust, and the deaths of children, according to screenshots of the chat obtained by The Crimson. Some of the messages joked that abusing children was sexually arousing, while others had punchlines directed at specific ethnic or racial groups. One called the hypothetical hanging of a Mexican child ‘piñata time,’” according to the paper.

I would excuse these dopey kids before Kaepernick. At least in the students’ case, we can hope their high-potential minds haven’t yet completely formed. But Harvard has an interest in fostering a climate conducive to learning and personal development. It shouldn’t have to “associate” with these students if it thinks they aren’t right for such purposes.

Let me add to the list the very unfunny Kathy Griffin, the bigoted Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams and Iowa US Rep. Steve King. Freedom of speech is a two-way street.

As for Kaepernick, I support his right to express himself in a way that gotten national attention. I also respect the team owners’ rights not to associate with hi. And for what’s it’s worth (and I hope it’s a lot), I also have the greatest respect for the people who fought and died for these rights. I show that by standing at attention for the national anthem anytime, anywhere it’s played. That’s my right.