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Athletes establishing their 1st Amendment rights

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If you ever doubted the importance of professional sports in the American imagination, last weekend’s events were a stark reminder that it is more powerful than ever.

All weekend, professional athletes exercised their First Amendment rights — and punched back at a wildly swinging President Donald Trump who questioned their patriotism — by kneeling, locking arms or remaining in the locker room during the playing of the national anthem. Further, some league champions refused to attend the traditional visit to the White House.

Watching football games Sunday reminded me of the rallies from the 1960s when conscientious objectors burned their draft cards in protest of the Vietnam War.

The NBA even got into the presidential scrum when superstars Stephen Curry and Lebron James dissed the POTUS. The King from Cleveland landed the most piercing blow when he replied to the president’s tweet about what an honor it is for championship teams to be invited to the White House.

“It was [an honor] until you became President,” wrote King James.

Ouch.

It is amazing to witness the ongoing ideological war manufactured by a president who really should be more focused on avoiding war with North Korea and figuring out how his dysfunctional party will ever get any of his agenda passed in Congress.

It is hard to know where this dust-up leads, but it sure is fun to watch athletes and football team owners kick back against the latest foolish tirade by Trump.

This weekend, a film opened that also reminds us of the power of sports — “The Battle of the Sexes,” a great tale set in 1973.

The film chronicles the early career of women’s tennis great Billie Jean King and her fight for equal rights for women in sport. It is an inspiring and encouraging story. King was unwilling to let the male-dominated U.S. Tennis Association pay women champions less than one-eighth of what men received.

King led a renegade group of women’s tennis players in forming a new league — the Women’s Tennis Association — so that they could try to achieve pay parity. They succeeded when a tobacco company funded the Virginia Slims women’s tour.

But even more dramatically, King soundly defeated a male chauvinist hustler named Bobby Riggs in the much-hyped “Battle of the Sexes.” Her win proved that women tennis players can, indeed, beat male tennis players. The event did more to advance the cause of women’s rights than our slow-moving government ever did.

King was a leading feminist and also became one of the first openly gay high-profile athletes, breaking barriers the provided a huge leap in American consciousness for gay rights.

Athletes are given a huge platform in our celebrity-loving society and it is great to see them use their status to expose the remaining injustices in American culture.

Tom Allon is the president of City & State.Reach him at tallon@cityandstateny.com.

Posted 12:00 am, September 28, 2017
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Reader feedback

wrong time and place from queens says:
Everyone has a right to a political opinion, but the work place is not the place to express these opinions. I worked for a major corporation for over 30 years. We were not allowed to have any political advertising such as bumper stickers and buttons in the office or on company vehicles. What the players did is a slap in the face to all patriotic Americans but also violates their player contracts. I hope they lose endorsements. And you cannot tell me that LeSean McCoy's stretching during the Anthem is a political statement. It is just a punk acting like an idiot.
Sept. 28, 2017, 10:02 am
Helton from Flushing says:
As usual, Tom has focused on the wrong issue. Of course these athletes have a 1st amendment right to express their opinion.

However, there's a couple of problems with the way they're doing it:

1) They're doing it at an event where people have paid lots of money to attend. Most people go to sporting events to escape reality. Many of them don't want to hear the political opinions of athletes at an event where the consumer has spent a week's paycheck to attend.

It's like going to a concert and hearing the performer give their political beliefs to the audience. News flash to performers and athletes of all kinds - no one cares about your political opinions at an event where I've spent lots of money to be there. Opine on your own time.

2) These athletes are espousing their beliefs at their worksite. I think that many working stiffs would not be allowed to offer these types of opinions at their jobs. If they did, they could very well be looking for new jobs soon after their protests.

3) Many sports fans disagree with the message of these protests. Right or wrong, many are offended and have become angry. It doesn't seem like a good business model to anger your customers.

4) By doing their protests, these athletes must remember that actions have consequences. That could take the form of consumers no longer spending $$ to attend the games, or consumers boycotting advertisers' products.

5) It seems obvious that these protests are rooted in an anti-Trump sentiment. Did police brutality and confederate statues come into existence on the day that Trump was inaugurated? Of course not. Where were the protesters during Obama's 8 years?

News flash to Tom Allen and everyone else - Hillary lost, Trump won. Get over it, act like adults, and if you truly believe in whatever message you're trying to send, then do it in an area where you'll have maximum impact - football stadiums are not that area.
Oct. 1, 2017, 4:10 pm
Helton from Flushing says:
As usual, Tom misses the major point, which is that that no one wants to deny any American their 1st amendment rights. The major point is the location of their protests.

1) When someone spends their hard earned money to go to a game or a concert, most people don't want to hear the political opinions of the athletes and performers. News flash - Joe Public doesn't care what you think. We attend these events to escape reality.

2) Even if the message has validity (which is a matter of opinion), is protesting at your workplace the smart place to do so? If most folks protested at their worksites, many would be looking for a new job real fast.

3) By protesting in the manner in which they have done, these athletes/musicians are really angering the very people who buy their product. That doesn't seem like a particularly smart business plan. That's because not everyone agrees with the message.

4) Did all of these alleged issues involving police brutality and confederate statues suddenly start appearing on January 20, 2017? I'd like to ask these athletes why they were not protesting these issues during Obama's 8 years in office.

5) The answer to #4 is simple. This is an anti-Trump protest, and a poorly organized message at that. Most of the NFL and NBA are black players, so they didn't want to embarrass the biracial President - even though these issues were out there for all to see.

The only logical conclusion is that they want to embarrass Trump, even though he had nothing to do with these issues.

6) Get over yourselves. Trump won fairly and by the rules, despite screams to the contrary. Hillary lost because of herself. Russia didn't change one Presidential vote from "D" to "R". Russia didn't steal ballot machines that took away votes from Hillary.

Many disagreed with Obama's policies and did so without violence and temper tantrums. People like Tom Allen should do the same.
Oct. 1, 2017, 4:28 pm

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