Free Speech, Free Markets & the NFL

Member Group : Jerry Shenk


The National Football League drama over pre-game kneeling has its roots in American politics, its outcome in market forces.

The notion of “victimhood” has assumed a negative role in America’s political culture and discourse, because, in order for some to be “victims,” others, innocents included, must be branded as “oppressors.”

The “victim” phenomenon is a tactic employed by the “control left” (ctrl-left), one of America’s smaller, but nastiest political sub-groups, among whom American “oppression” has become axiomatic. To generate fear — and political influence disproportionate to their numbers — they have weaponized some of the worst slanders with which one can be branded in polite society: “white supremacist!” “fascist!” “misogynist!” “xenophobe!” “racist!” among others.

Most Americans are none of those things, so conservatives tend to disregard the ctrl-left’s gratuitous slurs. But liberal pieties don’t exempt more-traditional, especially white and/or male progressives from ctrl-left slanders. Accordingly, conventional liberals’ fear of branding has allowed ctrl-leftists to infect Democratic Party politics – and now the NFL.

Most football fans have never played the game, at least at an elite level. Most watch sporting events as entertainment, relief from the ordinariness of work, family responsibilities and the invasion of politics into nearly every other facet of American life.

There are few better examples of skills-based meritocracies than elite sports, so the notion that anyone who makes a professional roster is a “victim” is ridiculous. Nonetheless, a benched quarterback and other pampered, oversized, undereducated, generously-compensated NFL players took a knee during the pregame playing of America’s national anthem.

In doing so, they staked out a thoroughly beef-witted position in the ctrl-left culture wars and turned what should be fan entertainment into a political spectacle.

Public figures have many venues in which to protest, so the NFL players’ on-field act was received by normal Americans as an in-your-face insult, a deliberate act of disrespect for America and the regular citizens, workers and service people who move, feed, and protect it.

The ctrl-left expected American fans to tolerate on-field expressions that insulted them and disrespected things fans value. Rather than sitting through and enduring it, though, fans quietly observed their freedom to choose — and hit the NFL in the wallet.

Declining ticket sales, viewers, merchandise and advertising dollars cost the league, teams, advertisers and networks, so, since employers are entitled to set employees’ on-the-job rules of professional conduct, management acted. The NFL directed players to observe the same respectful pre-game rules in 2018 that the National Basketball Association has followed for years, but with a compromise: NFL players can remain in their locker rooms until the national anthem has ended.

Quelle horreur! Why protest if the public can‘t see it? Whatever happened to free speech? Good question.

The ctrl-left that punishes free expression by others is learning that their speech isn’t consequence-free. The players’ free speech exercise cost the NFL, which, in turn, accommodated the market it serves and whose support it needs.

The NFL fans’ informal boycott was a perfect example of how free markets work.