This morning, President Donald Trump made the statement that anyone in the NFL who kneels during the National Anthem should be fired. “They’re ruining the game,” Tump said. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you’d say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired.”
This statement is, of course, unsurprising. It’s unsurprising that someone like Trump, an egomaniac with an authoritarian leaning who is only concerned about free speech when it affects him, would be so interested in curtailing any sort of dissent. After all, that’s what authoritarians do, especially those like Trump, who are surrounded by sycophants. But Trump –as he has been so many times– is dead wrong about statement. The NFL should not fire players because they refuse to stand for the National Anthem.
It would be wrong for the NFL –or ESPN, in the case of Jemele Hill– to fire anyone for expressing their right to free speech.
Now, there is a precedent for “disrespecting” the flag in the courts. In the case of Texas v. Johnson In 1989, the Supreme Court ruled that people can desecrate the flag because it is protected under the First Amendment. So if the Supreme Court ruled that people are allowed to burn the American flag without being punished by the U.S. government, people are also allowed to kneel for the National Anthem or refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. In short, people can kneel for the National Anthem because they have the right to do so, and the NFL or any other organization has no right to fire them for it.
Another facet of this is the hypocrisy of Trump’s claim. He claimed: “That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect of everything we stand for.” And this makes me think: what do “we” stand for—especially when it comes to the NFL? Do we stand for domestic abusers continuing to play the game, even after they are caught beating their wives red-handed beating? Do we stand for an organization that –for years– suppressed any findings on brain damage so they could increase their profits? Do we stand for a variety of other awful things that the NFL has, if not explicitly, then implicitly condoned, like rape, violence, murder, sexism or racism? At the very least, these are all the things that Trump is defending. He’s nonchalant when it comes to these abhorrent actions, but when a player kneels during the National Anthem, he’s going too far. That’s when he should be fired.
But of course, what’s worse? Kneeling for the flag or beating the snot out of your girlfriend? Suppressing scientific findings that are evidence that football kills people and causes brain damage, or kneeling for the National Anthem? I don’t know about you, but I’d say that kneeling for the National Anthem certainly isn’t the worst thing NFL players have done.
I think back to President Barack Obama and the reaction people would have had if he had said some of the same things. Can you imagine if President Obama said that someone—maybe a reality TV show host— should be fired for saying he wasn’t born in the United States? Or what about when Fox News host Sean Hannity went on TV to talk trash about Obama for using Dijon mustard on his sandwich? People would have lost their minds if Obama ,while in office, said that these people should be fired for criticizing or teasing him. Yet it’s absolutely fine that Donald Trump makes these remarks in office. It’s okay that he proposes infringing upon people’s rights as citizens and blackballs them because they stand up for what they believe.
Another facet to this issue is race. It’s become a pattern for Trump to attack people of color who criticize him and to encourage organizations fire them. The same situation happened with Colin Kaepernick and Jemele Hill. Even Steph Curry had an invitation to the White House rescinded because he rightfully hesitated. Trump is targeting any person of color who criticizes him and trying to ruin their livelihoods. He doesn’t seem to realize that criticism of the President is normal and happens constantly. But then again, this is the person who didn’t realize how hard being president would be. Jemele Hill was right though—Trump is certainly a white supremacist. That’s why, in the past, he’s been so reluctant to condemn white supremacists and so quick to falsely parallel white supremacists and protesters.
Donald Trump has been wrong about most things, and I don’t foresee that going any differently anytime soon. But when it comes to this, Trump is especially wrong, and he’s using the office of the President poorly. Out of all people, the president is the one person who shouldn’t be telling companies to fire people, especially for something like standing by their beliefs. It’s a total misuse of the office. Besides that though, Trump is dead wrong when it comes to this. While it is true that a private organization like the NFL or ESPN can fire an employee for speech, it is extremely shady for a government body, or individual like the POTUS, to tell these organizations to fire someone for their speech.
Drew Heiderscheidt is the Opinion Editor for The Mirror. He is a senior with majors in history, and environmental and sustainability studies.