Kaepernick’s protest is a utilization of free speech

by Patrick Doyle, Staff Writer

Former NFL Quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat for the national anthem for the first time in August  2016. It took a few months for any outrage to begin, but once people noticed it, the outrage started pouring in against him and the NFL. It sparked a debate around racial injustice in the United States and whether kneeling during the national anthem is an acceptable form of protest.

What Kaeprnick was kneeling for is an important issue in itself. Set aside whether he should be able to kneel, his reasons for doing so represent ideas that need to be discussed relating to police prejudice against minorities in many areas of the country.

These issues are vitally important to be able to openly debate, but in this piece, I want to talk directly about the act of his kneeling in protest and why it is absurd to suggest anyone does not have the right to protest in such a way.

Kneeling during the national anthem is, by definition, a peaceful protest. No violence is being incited, no one is put in harm’s way and the person kneeling is able to make clear they disagree with an injustice in the United States.

Despite this fact, many people still feel even this peaceful form of protest should not be allowed, as it disrespects the people who have died fighting for this country. But even if that is true, it is completely irrelevant. Free speech is still free, whether it offends you or not. As long as it is not directly inciting violence, such as if someone in an angry mob of people yelled “let’s go flip a police car,” it is legal and allowed under the First Amendment.

There is also precedent for this. In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled in Texas v. Johnson that it is illegal to prohibit the burning of an American flag, as such an act is considered to be protected free speech. So, theoretically, Colin Kaepernick could kneel for the national anthem while dragging an American flag across the ground with one hand and holding a lighter in the other trying to set it on fire, and legally he is perfectly justified and you cannot stop him unless it poses a physical danger to anyone.

Now all this does not mean you are unjustified in being offended. In fact, if the scenario I mentioned of Kaepernick aggressively burning the flag during the national anthem were real, I may be quite offended myself. But I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it, because he can protest in whatever manner he desires as long as he is not harming anyone.

Kaepernick said it well himself in a statement to the media in August 2017: “I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.”

Whether you agree with his form of protest, or whether or not you believe there is injustice in our police force and our country, and even if you feel highly offended and feel he is disrespecting every man and woman who has died for this country, he is allowed to exercise his freedom of speech by kneeling and you have no right to stop him.

What disturbs me most is that we seem to have forgotten Kaepernick’s whole story and are somehow still debating the legality of his kneeling. Conservatives like President Trump seem to use this example as proof liberals are unpatriotic and hate the United States. But in reality, this form of protest shows liberals love this country enough to want it to change for the better, and won’t settle for what we have now, which is a system that unjustly oppresses many minority populations both socially and economically. The protest is an acknowledgement that our country can still do better for the people it forgets.

What will the United States become if we start being forced by the state to stand while our anthem plays? How has kneeling against injustice become equated to treason?

The story of Kaeprnick’s protest needs to be remembered, both as an example of free speech being exercised despite outrage, and as a reminder that not everyone in the United States enjoys the freedom from injustice some of us take for granted.

Patrick Doyle is a freshman studying journalism and political science. Follow him @PatrickDoyle100.