To those of us who would like to believe the NFL is about “freedom of expression,” let’s not be naïve.
- Walker Wildmon
In May of 2014, the St. Louis Rams drafted openly homosexual college football player Michael Sam. On live television Sam found it necessary to kiss his boyfriend. Shortly after the two kissed, Miami Dolphins player Don Jones posted a tweet saying “horrible” and “OMG.” Jones was obviously disturbed by seeing two grown men exchange kisses on live television. Note that when the tweet occurred, Don Jones was on his personal social media account. This was also during his personal time, meaning he was not representing the Rams in any official capacity such as a speaking engagement, press conference, etc. Just two days later the Dolphin management fined Jones and ordered him to attend educational training before he could return to the team.
On November 30, 2014 several of the St. Louis Rams players walked out of the tunnel prior to the game with the “hands up, don’t shoot” gesture. If you’re not familiar, the “hands up, don’t shoot” phrase gained publicity after the death of Michael Brown by Officer Darrell Wilson. A friend of Brown claimed that he had his hands up when the officer began firing on him. This claim was proved to be false by the grand jury. After outrage over this expression by the Rams players, the EVP of the Rams said "Our players' goal was to show support for positive change in our community. I do believe that supporting our players' First Amendment rights and supporting local law enforcement are not mutually exclusive." Neither the NFL nor the Rams management disciplined the players.
In July of 2016 Cleveland Browns running back Isaiah Crowell posted an image of an ISIS looking man beheading a police officer on his twitter account. The image showed blood pouring from the officer’s neck as the man dressed in all black used a knife to slit his throat. Crowell was quick to delete the tweet and issue a public apology. As the outrage grew, the NFL issued a one-sentence statement which read, “The image was inappropriate and insensitive. He realized this, took down the post and has since apologized.” Neither the Browns management nor the NFL disciplined Crowell for this social media post.
Just a couple days ago San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made headlines for sitting during the National Anthem. After the game Kaepernick said, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder." Note that Kaepernick failed to give a specific example to his comment. It is untrue that America, as a country, oppresses black people. Kaepernick, a man of mixed race, is benefiting from the country that he accused “oppresses” people of color. The fellow has a $100 million dollar plus contract and America is oppressive? Not to mention the thousands of white fans that buy his jersey or his white parents who adopted him and raised him.
In response to Kaepernick the NFL said, "Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem." The 49ers coach said "We recognize his right to do that. It's not my right to tell him not to do something. That's his right as a citizen." The 49ers also issued an official statement which partially read, “…In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."
Let me get this straight. The St. Louis Rams players can protest a false narrative; the Cleveland Browns player can post an image of a cop assassination, and the 49ers quarterback can sit during the National Anthem. All free from disciplinary action. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins’ player is fined for posting his personal opinion of two men kissing on national television. Let’s also not forget that the NFL recently declined the Dallas Cowboys request to wear helmet decals honoring the five slain Dallas police officers.
To those of us who would like to believe the NFL is about “freedom of expression,” let’s not be naïve. The National Football League ironically chooses what passes their “freedom of expression” standard. If only we had an NFL that honored the fallen Dallas police officers and allowed a player to express his private opinion on homosexuality without punishment. At this point we might actually have a league that allows “freedom of expression.”