David Davenport: Not All Free Speech Is Constitutionally Protected

NFL players kneeling to protest the national anthem isn’t going away. Two owners say their players must stand; now the Commissioner wants a rule requiring all NFL players to stand. Vice President Pence famously walked out on the protest.

But here’s one thing you should know that many don’t: Even though the phrase free speech is thrown around, the players have no constitutionally protected right to protest the anthem.

The First Amendment prohibits the government from limiting free speech, not a football team. In fact, sports teams are businesses and their leagues may regulate all kinds of things, from tucking in your shirt to what patches you wear. If there is any legal angle here, it is a matter of labor negotiations between the players’ union and management or the League. But it’s not a matter of constitutional law under the First Amendment.

Sadly our society knows so little about the Constitution, but this teachable moment is about free speech.