Special Briefing: The Art of the Kneel

Special Briefing: The Art of the Kneel

Terrance Smith #48, Eric Fisher #72, Demetrius Harris #84, and Cameron Erving #75 of the Kansas City Chiefs is seen taking a knee before the game against the Los Angeles Chargers at the StubHub Center on September 24, 2017 in Carson, California.

SourceSean M. Haffey/Getty

Why you should care

America is speaking its mind. 

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

What’s the state of free speech in America? Muddled, bordering on incoherent. In the past several weeks, debates on the nature and scope of free speech in the United States have flared up over everything from neo-Nazi protests and campus demonstrations against conservative speakers to an ESPN host calling the president a “white supremacist” on Twitter and a Google employee getting fired for questioning his employer’s diversity efforts. And then …

What happens when the president shouts “You’re FIRED!” in a crowded arena? At a rally in Alabama on Friday night, President Donald Trump said that NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, like the “son of a bitch” Colin Kaepernick, should be fired. Widespread protests erupted across the league in response, as dozens of players knelt and others stood and locked arms — while a few teams remained in their locker rooms — during the national anthem.

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Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Los Angeles Rams in December 2016.

Source Michael Zagaris/Getty

Is this just “locker room talk”? The kneeling controversy has reignited a larger debate in a nation divided over how, where and to what degree its people, including its president, should be able to express themselves. Tune in to Third Rail With OZY on PBS at 8:30 p.m. tonight where we’ll host a full discussion.

WHAT TO KNOW

Why They’re Protesting the Protest. Taking a knee is meant to protest police brutality and systemic racism toward people of color in America. But many critics say they see the protests as an affront to veterans, the military, the national anthem and the United States itself.

A Prevent Defense. The White House, put on defense this week, has echoed these sentiments. “This isn’t about the president being against anyone,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, maintaining it was appropriate for the president “to defend our national anthem.” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin argued that players “have the right to have the First Amendment off the field.”

Chilled Water Cooler Conversations. What do Colin Kaepernick, former Google engineer James Damore and Gary Cohn, the president’s chief economic adviser, have in common? They have all experienced adverse employment outcomes as a result of speaking their minds, underscoring the reality that most employees in America do not enjoy free speech in the workplace. No NFL team will hire Kaepernick, Damore was fired by Google and it appears that Cohn’s criticism of his boss’s remarks about the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, hurt his expected promotion to Federal Reserve chairman.

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A demonstrator holds a banner reading

Source Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty

Shrinking Opportunities for Speech. It’s not just the workplace where free speech is curtailed. Many U.S. colleges limit discourse through so-called speech codes and free speech zones. And in at least 12 states, many of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War marches of the 1960s would be illegal today because they block traffic or “disrupt commerce.”

Hindsight is 80/20. Speaking of marches, according to a 2016 poll, 54 percent of Americans disapproved of athletes like Kaepernick kneeling in protest. But Americans’ views of civil rights protests and their participants tend to evolve over time: 60 percent had an unfavorable view of the March on Washington in 1963, according to Gallup, and 63 percent a negative impression of Martin Luther King Jr. Today, 80 percent have a favorable view of King, and the March is considered a landmark success.

Around the World. People in America still enjoy a more robust freedom of speech than many across the world. On Monday in Cairo, seven concertgoers unfurled a rainbow flag and were subsequently arrested for “inciting immorality,” which officials said was necessary to “protect social values.”

WHAT TO READ

“Instead of Kaepernick’s protest becoming about equal justice, for the majority of Americans it became about whether or not rich NFL players should disrespect the flag.”

How the NFL Watered Down Colin Kaepernick’s Protest, by Jamil Smith at theWashington Post

“This past weekend, the NFL took an opportunity to throw its weight to aid the cause of racial justice and turned it into a bland exhibition of corporate ‘unity.’”

Colin Kaepernick’s Mother Responds to the President, by Teresa Kaepernick on Twitter

“Guess that makes me a proud bitch!”

WHAT TO WATCH

History: The Legacy of Political Protest in Sports

“America has a long history of athletes using their high-profile status to protest against the government and its policies.”

Humor: Trump’s NFL Comments Have Everything To Do With Race

“Saying that kneeling is a protest against the flag is like saying Gandhi’s hunger strikes were a protest against snacking.”

What to Say at the Water Cooler

To play it safe, try “helluva game on Sunday.” Or test the free speech waters with: Is the president undermining the Justice Department’s position on free speech? The Trump administration recently argued to the Supreme Court that free speech protects a Christian baker’s refusal to serve LGBT customers. When it comes to protected speech, is refusing to serve a customer more justified than refusing to stand during an anthem?

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