Freedom of expression includes athletes

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Trump’s recent words criticizing the NFL and its players have sparked outrage from around the world. The perceived disrespect of the American flag that’s become the center of a debate distracts from the real issues being protested — the unfair treatment of racial minorities in America. 
 
In America, Canada and several other places in the world, black people in particular face discrimination throughout their lives that they can’t tune out. Being able to ‘distance’ yourself from race in your day-to-day life takes a certain amount of privilege to accomplish.
 
For athletes, being in the public eye comes with a responsibility to uphold a sense of morality on-and-off the field. For black athletes in the wake of racially charged events, the scrutiny they face is two-fold. Asking athletes to stick solely to sports is asking them to stay silent on the issues that affect them and their country.
 
When Trump criticizes kneeling athletes as displaying a disrespect for the American flag, he completely ignores their reasons for protesting in the first place.
 
When Colin Kaepernick first decided to kneel during the national anthem last year, he did it to make a statement about how America treats black people. Those that are offended by his actions believe his method of protesting is disrespectful, while some don’t seem to understand that it’s a protest at all.
 
Trump’s speech and tweets targeting the NFL aren’t only inflammatory, but illegal under the American Constitution. For the President of the United States to suggest that a private institution like the NFL should fire its employees is contrary to everything the American flag supposedly represents.
 
Although it seems like a recent development, the world of sports has always been involved in politics. Historically, athletes haven’t visited the White House as a form of protest when invited.
 
Athletes taking a political stance isn’t new, and as citizens themselves they have the right to do so. Kneeling is a form of protest that allows athletes to voice their opinion and show solidarity for others. 
 
The flag of one’s country is symbolic of different things to different people and patriotism is expressed in a variety of ways. While some people may call the NFL protests disrespectful of the flag, others may see them as upholding its values of freedom of speech and expression. 
 
 
— Journal Editorial Board

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