Cheney Free Press -

By John McCallum
Managing Editor 

It's time to take the anthem out of protests

Crunch Time


I agree with those who are tired of seeing sports and politics mixed and would like to do something to take the latter out of the former.

My solution probably won’t land me on any Christmas card lists.

Last week, the National Football League announced it would implement a new policy of fining teams whose players refuse to stand during the national anthem. It’s a response to a practice players use to protest racial injustice in this country, begun by former quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 and continued this past season.

In announcing the beginning of the policy creation process, Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an Oct. 10, 2017 memo that the current dispute was “threatening to erode the unifying power of our game, and is now dividing us, and our players, from many fans across the country.”

Goodell went on to say “we (whoever “we” is, he doesn’t elaborate fully) believe that everyone should stand” for the anthem. The league wants to honor the flag and country, adding that fans expect that.

“It’s an important part of our game,” Goodell notes.

“The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on underlying issues,” Goodell writes in acknowledging players concerns. “We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players.”

So, in moving past the controversy, the response to players is to penalize their respective teams should they decide to continue kneeling in protest. That hardly sounds like working “together” with players on the issue, and they have responded by claiming the NFL, with its new policy, is denying them their free speech rights.

There are several points here to be made. First, with regards to rights, there is something called “the letter of the law” and “the spirit of the law.”

With free speech, the letter of the law is the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states “Congress shall make no law...or abridging the freedom of speech...” The operative clause here begins “Congress shall...”

The clause limits our government with regards to rights. The NFL is not Congress, at least last I checked, and under the letter of the law, the right wouldn’t need to be adhered to by the league.

The “spirit of the law,” however, is different. The spirit of the First Amendment is generally believed by most Americans to be a universal application of those rights. In other words, if those rights are truly part of our deeply held beliefs in what this country stands for, then they transcend the letter and should be enjoyed by everyone.

So, while a private party such as a business or league might be within their right to prohibit exercise of some constitutional rights — the letter, as a society, we believe these parties should follow what we hold to be a guiding principal — the spirit.

And that spirit is what many see when we look at our flag. By denying those rights, the NFL is damaging the spirit of what our flag represents.

Second, Goodell’s statement the anthem is “an important part of our game.” It’s only that way because we have chosen to make it so.

Not playing the national anthem, flying the flag, will not alter the execution of a sporting event in the same way as, say, not having a ball, or not having a kick-off, first pitch, puck drop, etc. No recreation league baseball game, pickup basketball game or Saturday afternoon football game between friends was ever held up because somebody forgot to bring a flag we could salute and sing to.

Finally, “The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on underlying issues.”

Agreed. So remove the focus of the controversy — the anthem.

College teams don’t take the field until after the anthem is sung, and professional teams only started doing it after Sept. 11, 2001. Return to that practice, and you remove the opportunity for protest while protecting the spirit of individual rights.

I would wager the majority of us don’t go to sporting events thinking about our national anthem. If it were not there as a political element, and that’s what it is, it wouldn’t be the subject of protests.

And then, perhaps, we could think of our national anthem in other, more spirit-filled ways.

John McCallum can be reached at


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