Kneeling During the National Anthem: the Athlete's Right to Political Views

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Many believe that professional athletes, like Colin Kaepernick, should be prohibited from expressing their beliefs on political, religious or other social issues in public. These arguments ignore the fact that this country was founded by individuals running from an oppressive government which restricted people’s ability to speak out on issues. The founding fathers stood up for the freedom to express their views by revolting and fighting against England. Parents teach their children to think for themselves, to stand up for their beliefs and to never just follow the crowd. Why should professional athletes be treated differently? There is no justification to restrict professional athletes’ speech, while the rest of us enjoy the freedoms that our Founding Fathers fought for. Professional athletes should be able to express personal views at sporting events, just like any other American.

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The history of professional athletes expressing their political or social views as part of their sport dates to the mid twentieth century. The Dodgers’ support of Jackie Robinson being the first African American to play in Major League Baseball was, in reality itself, a protest against discrimination. In April 1967, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into the US Army in protest against the Vietnam War. Later, in 1968, the first major protest by athletes at a sporting event occurred at the 1968 Summer Olympics. This happened when sprinters “Tommie Smith and John Carlos of the United States raised gloved hands and fists clenched in a black power salute and bowed their heads on the victory stand while playing the national anthem.” After those actions, the Olympic committee wanted to punish the whole United States team if the two sprinters weren’t disciplined properly (Sheehan). Since then protesting by professional athletes at sporting events has come a long way. For example, in 2014, a group of NBA players led by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant wore shirts honoring Eric Garner who died in police custody after repeatedly screaming that “he cant breathe” as a protest against police brutality. However, a major controversy still exists whenever an athlete expresses their views in protest. Many people believe that professional athletes should not be able to protest during games and should just stick to being role-models through their sport and should keep their mouths quiet. On the contrary, others believe that there is no basis to deny professional athletes their ability to express their views. This debate over a professional athlete’s right to express their opinions at a sporting event has continued for years, even though the right to is obvious.

There are many reasons supporting why professional athletes should be able to express themselves at sporting events, but perhaps the most compelling reason is that their right to do so is guaranteed by the United States Constitution. In the United States, all of us have the right to free speech, and there is no basis to deny professional athletes this right just because they are in the public spotlight. The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (Constitution). Clearly, this protection extends to everyone. There is nothing in the Constitution that says this certain people should be excluded from its protection. Also, there is no real basis for saying that professional athletes should be treated differently under the Constitution than the rest of us.

Another reason that supports allowing professional athletes to be able to express themselves at sporting events simply the positive impact they can have by making people aware of the very issues they are protesting. Jackie Robinson brought awareness to the stupidity of segregation in Major League Baseball by becoming the first black player in the major leagues. In essence, every time he got up to bat, or took the field, was an expression of protest against segregation. This motivated other people to stand up against segregation. I myself wear Number 42 in softball to honor his work. Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who refuses to stand during the national anthem states “this is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed”(Hauser). Kaepernick expressed how he had to do what he believed was right and that he could not just stand by. In addition to athletes influences the public for the better, others look at it as a great way to express the public positivity as well.

Many people opposed to allowing professional athletes to express their political or social views as part of their sport insist that the views of these athletes are “un-American.” (Atlanta Daily World). For example, they argue that Colin Kaepernick insults veterans by kneeling during the National Anthem. They argue that as it is custom to stand in honor of the Country that kneeling must mean the opposite. They claim that his expression of these views is un-American.

These opponents ignore the fact that free speech itself is American. It’s protected by the Constitution. They also ignore the fact that the United States itself has used sports for political and social messages. During the late 1970s the former Soviet Union invaded and occupied Afganistan. The United States thought what the Soviet Union was doing was wrong and that people should know about it. So as a protest against what the Soviet Union was doing, the United states itself boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics in the Soviet Union as a protest against its invasion of Afganistan. How can it be un-American for professional athletes to use their sport to protest against political and social issues when the United States itself does the same thing?

People opposed to allowing professional athletes to express their political or social views as part of their sport also rely on the common stereotype is that athletes are just “paid to play” and they are just “dumb jocks.” They argue that all they should do is just stick to what they are good by keeping their mouths shut. The argue that athletes are handed enormous amount of checks to just play, and think that they should just do what they're paid to do. In fact, athletes in the past have been penalized for speaking their mind. The WNBA finned athletes for wearing protesting shirts during a pregame practice supporting black lives matter. (cite).

However, professional athletes belong to one of the most demanding and stressful professions, and their success can be used to motivate others to advance social and political change. Athletes will sacrifice their bodies to make a play, or just go through rigorous training. For example, the highest paid athlete is Michael Jordan with a net worth at 1B(Rose). Their dedication and success can be used to motivate others. A recent study proves that high political powers seek athletes to express opinions through the public eye(Smith). The White House itself influences professional athletes to take action. The White House originally encouraged athletes to get involved in non-political causes like “Let’s Move.” However “during President Obama’s Second Term, the administration started asking for support on more controversial issues”(Weidman). Not only do professional athletes like Kaepernick believe their opinions can positively impact others, but clearly, so does strong political powers. All the evidence proves that by athletes expressing their views can have a positive impact. Not many other people can say they have as much influence as athletes do on the public. Sure, some may complain when their opinion affects someone negatively but, when it makes a difference for the better is when it is important. Why state that one should not do this. Athletes should be able to express their opinions freely.


  1. Kang, Jay Caspian. 'Should Athletes Stick to Sports?' The New York Times Magazine, 19 Feb. 2017, p. 12(L). Gale Biography In Context, Accessed 7 Sept. 2017.
  2. 'Sports May Never Be a Politics-Free Zone Again.' Daily Intelligencer, 21 Feb. 2017. General OneFile, Accessed 7 Sept. 2017
  5. Lutz, Tom. “Obama Defends US Football Player Refusing to Stand for National Anthem.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 5 Sept. 2016,      

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