Race, Speech, and Sports
18 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2018
Date Written: May 16, 2018
The “take a knee” controversy that embroiled the National Football League during the 2016 and 2017 seasons sparked a national debate about free speech, player expression, and what, if anything, the league or its teams should do to discipline players for refusing to stand for the national anthem. Unfortunately, the public discourse on these topics largely centered around general platitudes that oftentimes ignored—or demonstrated a lack of knowledge of—professional sports law. This disconnection led to misperceptions regarding what the players and league could—and could not—do in these circumstances. At the same time, the “take a knee” movement also brought to the surface a long-standing issue for players: the persistent racial dynamic of a large group of African American players feeling controlled by a group of almost exclusively white team owners. This essay seeks to provide greater clarity to these controversial issues by constructing the legal framework surrounding player speech and by contextualizing them in this complex racial dynamic in sports.
Keywords: Sports, Race, National Anthem, Speech
JEL Classification: J29, J38, J39, J52, J53, Z2, Z20, Z22, Z28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation