As a working journalist I do not have greater First Amendment rights than most other Americans. My employer has wider freedoms under the law, but I do not.
I cannot write on any topic I choose, taking any opinion I wish. That’s not how a job works. I serve at the pleasure of a publisher and editor.
And yet pro football players believe they are above the workplace rule by taking a knee or sitting during the playing of the National Anthem. Their opinions are — no matter how unpopular with the owner or advertiser — their God-given right under the Constitution.
So when an owner like Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys tells his team if you kneel, then you sit during the game, he is not abridging the players Constitutional rights, he is instituting workplace rules.
If a player wants to speak about any topic outside the stadium, he has that right, that is protected speech. But he can’t bring that act to the factory floor, which is covered with Astroturf in this instance.
Case in point: Carolina Panther quarterback Cam Newton exercised his First Amendment right during a press conference when a female reporter asked him about the receivers route running.
Newton prefaced his answer with a comment about a woman asking such a technical football question. He subsequently lost an advertising endorsement for a yogurt product because of his sexist remark. Obviously, not all workplace opinions are protected speech.
There’s certainly no freedom of speech in the huddle. You say anything more than “I was open on that play,” and you will be headed to the sidelines after the team takes a timeout or gets penalized for delay of game.
If I want to write something controversial for the paper, it must be approved from my bosses. I cannot put it in the paper, and when the fallout happens say: “I was exercising my First Amendment right.”
On this blog I have greater freedom, but also greater liability, since I do not have a publishing company backing me up to defend my right. That’s a cost I must bare.
Put simply, when Pittsburgh Steeler lineman Alejandro Villanueva — an US Army veteran and spokesman in Defense Department advertising — had to apologize to his teammates for standing in the opening of the tunnel for the National Anthem, he lost his First Amendment right and that’s wrong.