North

THE ARGUMENT

Should NFL players be punished for kneeling during the national anthem?

YES

Amanda Orlando Kesterson

Gloucester resident, Republican State Committee member

Amanda Orlando Kesterson

The practice of playing our country’s national anthem before sporting events is a time-honored tradition. The highly-paid NFL athletes who sparked national controversy by kneeling during the anthem to protest what they term a “racist America” spit in the eye of the same country that tunes in each week to pay their exorbitant salaries.

When the NFL allows disrespect for the flag and the anthem, it disrespects the brave men and women who have provided the freedom and opportunity those athletes enjoy. No country is perfect, but this imperfect nation has liberated other countries and provided opportunities to millions seeking freedom. Our flag and what it represents deserves respect, especially from those as privileged as professional athletes.

The government should never punish anyone for peaceful protest, which is protected by our Constitution. But the NFL owners absolutely should punish players for these actions or it will continue to suffer financial consequences from consumers who resent the anti-American messaging put forth by the players.

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When an NFL player dons his uniform and steps onto the field, he is no longer simply an individual peacefully protesting. He is an employee, representing an organization, and his actions while on the job reflect on that company. Private companies set expectations for employees’ behavior, dress, hair length, visible tattoos, and other issues that they feel are important for marketing their brand. Athletes might be highly paid, but they are still employees. The NFL should deal with rogue employees who choose to send an anti-American message to consumers.

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In 2012, a young woman visited Arlington National Cemetery and posed for a photo — which went viral — while making an obscene gesture and pretending to yell next to a sign asking for silence and respect while visiting the grounds. Thousands of calls poured in to her employer complaining about her lack of respect for our veterans buried there, and her employer fired the woman and her coworkers who took the shot for not representing the company’s values while on the job.

The right to free speech is protected from government oppression, but not private sector scrutiny. That employer sent a message that codes of appropriate behavior are expected when on the job. The NFL owners should do the same.

NO

Anthony Owens

Salem resident, volunteer, Essex County Community Organization

Anthony Owens

The answer is “no” and we should be examining very deeply why this type of question is even being raised. National Football League teams should not (and cannot) punish their players for kneeling during the playing of the national anthem. The First Amendment of the Constitution protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the right to protest. As it reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Inspired by the example set by Colin Kaepernick last season, more than 200 NFL players kneeled — a respectful symbol of selflessness, humility, and supplication — or sat in conscientious objection during the playing of the national anthem on Sept. 24, 2017. They were making a public statement and, in the language of our Constitution, to petition for a redress of their grievances regarding police abuse and the killing by police officers of African Americans across the United States.

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In Kaepernick’s own words to NFL Media in 2016, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Instead of trifling questions like this one that only serve to distract, we should instead be asking ourselves some more important questions:

1. Does this very question of whether punishment should be assessed for kneeling during the national anthem (but not after a touchdown, as with Tim Tebow) underscore Kaepernick’s very point about racial oppression in the US?

2. Why individuals who have killed citizens that they are supposed to be protecting and serving are not punished in this country?

3. How can we as Americans who believe in “liberty and justice for all” stem the obvious patterns of injustice that Kaepernick and his peers have raised, when we so clearly will do anything to avoid looking at them?

Last week’s argument: Should Amesbury ban the sale of recreational marijuana?

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No: 55.69% (225 votes)

Yes: 44.31% (179 votes)

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.