The National Football League continues to exist in the eye of a social media hurricane, triggered a year ago when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick expressed concerns with alleged police brutality and discrimination against African American citizens by kneeling on the sidelines during the national anthem.
Kaepernick’s protest cast the NFL into a tempest that seems to be gaining momentum with every passing week. Last Sunday, players from a number of NFL franchises “took a knee” during the anthem. Others stood arm-in-arm while the anthem played, while others remained in their respective lockers rooms until pre-game festivities were completed.
Those antics drew the ire of many fans, including President Donald Trump, who called last week for the immediate firing of any player who refused to stand for the Star Spangled Banner. Monday, Trump expressed his respect for NASCAR team members, who traditionally stand at attention and honor the flag.
“So proud of NASCAR and its supporters and fans,” tweeted the President. “They won't put up with disrespecting our Country or our Flag - they said it loud and clear!”
As is often the case with the incumbent POTUS, controversy ensued. Media members scurried to secure opinions on the topic from NASCAR drivers, team owners and the sanctioning body.
Richard Childress sided strongly with the President, saying any RCR employee who kneels during the anthem can “get you a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over.”
|Kaepernick (R) triggered controversy|
Fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty went a step further, opining that “anybody that don’t stand up for that ought to be out of the country. Period.”
Former series champion Brad Keselowski toed a more moderate line, tweeting, “I can get behind trying to make the world a better place, Can’t get behind putting down others; kneeling clearly does both.”
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. quoted former President John F. Kennedy, tweeting, “All Americans are granted rights to peaceful protests. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
For its part, NASCAR remained comfortably out of the debate for a time. On Monday, however, the sanctioning body released a written statement saying, “Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”
In this writer’s personal opinion, you’re either in favor of free speech, or you’re not. The right to speak one’s mind is easy to defend when we’re talking about apple pie, the Boy Scouts and loving your mama. But when the American Nazi Party decides to march down Main Street in Skokie, Illinois, that’s when we find out who really believes in free speech.
|No kneelers in NASCAR|
Simply put, the free speech most worth defending is the speech you disagree with most. People have the right to say things their neighbors disagree with. It is one of the basic tenets upon which this country was founded, and it is absolutely worth defending.
It would be easy – and incredibly convenient – if every NASCAR fan felt the same way about every issue. It would also be unbelievably boring. But until that happens (and it never will) we must be willing to allow people to say what they think, even when we don’t necessarily agree.
NASCAR crew member Johnny Jackstand has a constitutionally guaranteed right to take a knee during the national anthem at this weekend’s NASCAR race. That right does not, however, preclude him from suffering the potentially negative consequences of those actions.
If Johnny Jackstand turns wrenches for Richard Childress Racing or Richard Petty Motorsports, the decision not to stand and honor the flag during the national anthem could cost him his job. After all, team owners have a right to their opinion, too.
Johnny expresses his views, R.C. and the King express theirs.
God Bless America.
NASCAR fans would do well to heed the advice of RPM majority owner Andrew Murstein, who said Petty, Childress and some of their fellow owners “are all proud Americans who have lived through world wars and turbulent times. While I respect their thoughts and personally I think it’s wrong to kneel, I wouldn’t fire someone for expressing their feelings. I would sit them down and say, ‘It’s the wrong thing to do that” and (that) many people, including myself, view it as an affront to our great country.
“If there is disenchantment toward the President or a few bad law enforcement officers, don’t have it cross over to all that is still good and right about our country,” said Murstein. “The flag isn’t a flag of a few people; it stands for all of America. Yes, there are problems here — but they are nothing close to the problems in North Korea or other parts of the world. We must come together as Americans and respect everyone and everything — especially our flag, which is a symbol of the United States, the greatest country in the world.
At the end of the day, no one can presume to speak for all of NASCAR. Last week’s statement from the sanctioning body was not attributed to any individual. Not Chairman/CEO Brian France, not President Brent Dewar, no one.
NASCAR is a massive community of individuals; officials, team owners, drivers, crewmembers and fans. No one can possibly presume to speak for each and every one of those people. We are far too diverse to be pigeonholed into a singular opinion, no matter how popular
With all its bluster and bombast, the current free speech debate threatens to lose track of its original point. Many of the loudest voices debating the issue today have no memory of the issues that created it, and that’s probably okay. At this point, the righteousness of Kaepernick’s cause has become irrelevant. He – like the rest of us -- has the right to speak and protest on any topic he sees fit; right or wrong.