Free speech continues to be a controversial issue in America. Protestors are popping up all around the country to a great extent influenced by racial injustice and President Trump’s seemingly defiant attitude.
Three recent events immediately come to mind. The first is Berkeley where students protested the scheduled speech of a conservative commentator. The individual involved and the subject matter is moot. The violence that ultimately resulted in the cancellation of the speech was earth shattering for anyone with a sense of history.
Berkeley was the epicenter of free speech protest in the modern era. The courage of those that protested the Vietnam War (in which 50.000 Americans died unnecessarily) and civil inequality (impacting an entire race of people) is inspirational. Great things were at stake and the influence these protestors had on our country is titanic.
In spite of all this this history, liberal protestors would not allow a conservative to express his opinion. This was a disgraceful episode in our country’s history. Where it all began became the place where it all came crumbling down. Free speech took it on the chin.
Next came Charlottesville. Irresponsible people marching to showcase their hatred of every minority incited a riot with anti-protestors. The confrontation between the groups pitted those who believe all Americans have the right to speak their mind (even if what they say is odious and offensive) against those that have a different definition of protected speech that does not include venomous comments by neo-Nazis and other hate groups.
The mistakes in Charlottesville were many and profound. The hate groups were clearly looking to incite violence and the anti-protestors obliged them. By the way protest that incites violence is not protected free speech.
The police were negligent because they did not keep the groups apart. This resulted in violence that should have been avoided. In 1977 a neo-Nazi march took place in Skokie, IL without violence because the police effectively kept protestors and anti-protestors away from each other.
In the aftermath the president poured gasoline on the fire by attempting to justify the objectives of the protestors. In essence Trump made a case that protestors and their opponents were equally responsible for the violence. From every perspective this pathetic attempt to give hate groups cover was disastrous. Politically the president lost votes. Economically he alienated virtually every business leader in the country. Morally he was on thin ice and fell through. Denigrating hate groups was the smart and righteous move for the administration.
The National Football League players brouhaha is yet another version of the free speech debate. Do football players have the right to protest? Yes, all Americans do. Could they have chosen a better venue to express their misgivings about race relations and police aggression? Many believe so. Was it wise for some owners to look the other way and avoid a confrontation with players? Not in my opinion.
There are other things at play regarding athletes. Most importantly they are denigrating our flag, our freedom, our country and our heroes who have fought for our liberty since the country was founded. The real culprits from the perspective of the players are the police who sometimes do not treat minorities with dignity. The leap from cops to country was inappropriate.
Moreover the crowds that attend football games are tilted towards the patriotic (they are “USA” people for the most part). Boos were prevalent as some (about 13%) of the players protested. It appears that the owners were more concerned with the feelings of their players than their season ticket holders.
The majority of players in the league are from minority groups. And many are sensitive to the improper actions of police in urban centers. This is no small matter. But the judgment of all the parties comes into question.
The protestors could have organized a much more effective protest without desecrating our national anthem. And every player (not just 13%) would have participated. The owners could have helped the players to professionally and effectively present their perspective without offending thousands of spectators.
It should be noted that protests were not violent. In fact, they were silent. Yet many spectators think these athletes should be thankful that they are paid inordinate amounts of money to play football. It was risky for the players to bite the hand that feeds them.
When it’s all said and done the players short-changed their own protest by acting impetuously and not in an organized fashion. And many viewers are disillusioned by acts against the country they love.