Source: Brad Mills/USA Today Sports, via Reuters

It’s Tuesday morning at the studios of Satirical News Network (SNN) in New York with SNN’s hit news show for Millennials, The American Selfie.  After a commercial break, Hosts Kate Kelley and Faye Watson open the show. Camera shows Kelley and Watson behind a curved table with the SNN logo behind them, along with dozens of pictures of Americans taking selfies.

Watson: “Welcome to The American Selfie, the show that explains America to the world, pimples and all. Mia Cooney’s interview with President Trump yesterday was really interesting, don’t you think, Kate?”

Kelley: “Mia killed it. What a journalist! We now move from the so-called nuclear football and North Korea to America’s most favorite sport, the National Football League (NFL).”

Watson: “A little Tuesday morning, quarterbacking, Kate?”

Kelley: “Lots of upsets and near upsets over the weekend, Faye, but more than that, we have a brewing controversy that’s spread to the NBA and even Nascar.” (Kelly turns away from Faye and looks directly into camera for a close up.)

Kelley: “For the first time since President Thomas Jefferson derided a chess tournament within his cabinet in the early 1800s has a U.S. President criticized a popular American sport. In a rally Friday night in Alabama and later in several Tweets, President Trump repeatedly condemned professional football players for kneeling during the National Anthem in protest for the unequal treatment of African Americans.”

Watson: “I was wondering what was happening. I had a few games on without sound Sunday because I’ve got this super cool new playlist on Spotify, and kept seeing all these players and people locking arms.”

Kelley: “Yep, instead of firing players who don’t stand, most owners rallied around them. Did you notice Mrs. Martha Ford, the small 92 year-old owner of the Detroit Lions, alongside her players?”

Watson: “Oh, that’s who that was! When I saw it without sound, I was, like, that little lady is going to get super scrunched in the game, especially without pads.”

Kelley: “What started as a fiery speech to Trump’s political base turned into raging controversy in the media with a huge backlash.”

Watson: “Because there’s so much other linguini hitting the fan right now with North Korea, hurricane destruction in Puerto Rico, the healthcare bill and tax reform?”

Kelley: “Linguini?”

Watson: “I’m trying to clean it up, Kate.”

Kelley: “It’s about time, Faye. No, the controversy is more than priorities, Faye. The football protests have been about the unequal treatment of African Americans.”

Watson: “I’m sure, though, that some groups view it as disrespect for the American flag, a super big taboo for the Right.”

Kelley: “Supporters say the players are peacefully exercising their First Amendment right to Free Speech.”

Watson: “I can see the point—”

Kelley: “And they point out–excuse the interruption, Faye–that when the Alt Right and Neo Nazis marched in Charlottesville in August chanting horribly anti-semitic things, the President was slow to condemn their actions and said both sides were to blame and there were some ‘good people’ among the marchers.”

Watson: “Woof.”

Kelley: “Woof is right. For more on this breaking story and what could be a sign of an emerging culture war, let’s go to Mia outside the Daytona Speedway with a NASCAR driver and his many fans.” (camera shows white male in NASCAR uniform with sunglasses and cowboy hat, holding a Mountain Dew and surrounded by dozens of fans carrying signs, “NFL Sons of Bitches: Fire Them All!”)

Cooney: “Thanks, I’m here with NASCAR driver legend Ty Roberts and several fans (huge cheers in the background and sign waving). Ty, what do you think about kneeling or sitting during the National Anthem before a race?”

Roberts: “Don’t like it, don’t like it at all, young lady. First of all, it ain’t right for our first responders and the people who’ve fought for our Free Speech rights, Mia (huge cheers), but more important, I have to sit for 500 straight miles in a little car without satellite radio—I’m not gonna sit for the anthem.”

 

Context for Foreign Readers

Soon after the American Revolution against England in the 1770s and 1780s, the thirteen American colonies created the United States Constitution (1789) and the Bill of Rights two years later in the form of 10 Amendments. The ideals of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ expressed in The Declaration of Independence became central ideas in the Bill of Rights, which were quite radical at the time. Ironically, this emerging political radicalism came from English political philosophers like John Locke.

The First Amendment is considered the most important of the Bill of Rights. It reads:

“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.”

Most Americans fervently believe in these rights, which is probably why the horrible Charlottesville march by Neo Nazis and White Supremacists in August did not generate demands for the government to outlaw such speech (which would have violated the First Amendment). It was actually quite a remarkable happening and should make Americans proud, even though most hated the content of the marchers’ speech.

Professional football players, like all Americans, have the Right to Free Speech. However, this right extends to protection from the government outlawing speech, not employers. If NFL owners wanted, they could require their players to stand during the American National Anthem. However, most would not for several reasons: people value the concept of free speech, and NFL players are about 70% African American. Another enormously popular American sport NASCAR, in contrast, had its origins in the South and has predominately white drivers. As President Trump’s Tweet indicates, NASCAR did not follow the NFL players and owners, and sympathetic NBA players, in condemning the President’s rant against NFL players’ speech. Many commentators have pointed out that the different reactions from different sports and fans indicate underlying racial and cultural views.

 

 

 

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