February 3, 2023
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ColumnsElephant in the Room

Free speech and football

At a preseason football game two weeks ago, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to remain seated during the national anthem. This sparked an intense debate across the country. To be clear, Kaepernick had every right to sit down. That’s called freedom of speech, and it’s about time Americans realized how important it is.

Many have called Kaepernick unpatriotic for his actions. Some have called for him to be fired. But those who wish to punish Kaepernick need to re-read the First Amendment. I may disagree with Kaepernick’s actions, but I don’t want to censor him. Instead, I want everyone to feel comfortable voicing their opinions, no matter how controversial those opinions may be.

People often speak highly of free speech when they wish to express their own ideas. Yet they are quick to censor others when contentious ideas are espoused. A free exchange and competition of ideas is what leads to progress in our country, not the suppression of ideas that some people deem offensive.

Those who wish to censor others also do harm to truth in the process. Even if a certain ideology represents the truth, it loses legitimacy if it is never challenged. We can’t be passive when accepting ideas. We must be critical, even when an idea is widely accepted. More speech means more opportunity for criticism of faulty logic and discussion on differing views.

While Kaepernick may have meant well in his quest to stand up to oppression, by sitting down, it is clear that he needs a history lesson. At the postgame press conference, Kaepernick wore a T-shirt featuring a photo of Fidel Castro meeting with Malcolm X during the 1960s. To criticize oppression in the U.S., where he is afforded the right to free speech, while wearing a shirt featuring a totalitarian dictator of a country that would suppress his speech is nothing short of ironic.

And while the NFL permitted Kaepernick’s expression, it seems to have an inconsistent view of free speech. Just a month ago, the NFL declined a request by the Dallas Cowboys to let their players wear helmet decals with the words “Arm in Arm” written on them. The decals were meant to express support for the police officers killed in the Dallas shooting in July. The NFL is a business and can oversee the speech of its employees while they are on the job. That being said, the NFL should not be hypocritical in their regulation of speech. Free expression is needed for everyone, not just those we agree with.

Kaepernick has a right to free expression, and we all have the right to criticize him. That’s the beauty of free speech, and we need more of it.

Kyle Stewart can be reached at kstewart1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @KyleStew107