Inconsistent Politics Spanning Professional Sports Freedom of Speech in the NFL

While Adam Silver, Commissioner of the NBA, and Lisa Borders, President of the WNBA, are in full support of their athletes taking political stances and using their voices to create change, the NFL seems to be light-years behind.

In July of 2016, after Philando Castile and Alton Sterling were murdered just one day apart, many African American athletes (and their teammates) felt the need to speak out against racial violence. In the WNBA, the Minnesota Lynx, the New York Liberty and the Phoenix Mercury athletes all wore #BlackLivesMatter shirts.

When the league fined the three teams for not wearing their uniforms, the players still didn’t back down. “There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” Sue Bird wrote on Instagram, captioning a picture of her Seattle Storm teammates all wearing black shirts. Days later, the league took the fine back. “I think it took us a while to find our voice,” WNBA President Lisa Borders said in her press conference before the All-Star game. “We have found our voice. We’re clear on who we are and what we stand for.”

NBA athletes Lebron James, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony spoke up against this racial violence immediately, demanding that other athletes speak up as well. “There’s NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore,” Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks said. “Those days are long gone. We have to step up and take charge. We can’t worry about what endorsements we gonna lose or [who’s] going to look at us crazy.”

Among the athletes to spark conversation about this topic was star quarterback Colin Kaepernick. After the shootings of Castile and Sterling, Kaepernick stayed sitting on the bench during the national anthem. A few games later, Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem and began posting his political views online. “This is what lynchings look like in 2016!” Kaepernick wrote on Instagram and Twitter when video of Alton Sterling’s death became public. “Another murder in the streets because the color of a man’s skin, at the hands of the people who they say will protect us. When will they be held accountable? Or did he fear for his life as he executed this man?”

All of these athletes spoke up because the issue of racial violence hits home. It could be any of their uncles, brothers, cousins, or friends who wind up dead in the street simply because of their skin color. These athletes want to use their voice as a platform to create change, which is extremely commendable and undeniably important.

Colin Kaepernick is currently being exiled from the NFL, while all of the NBA and WNBA athletes who spoke up are still playing. Kaepernick is undoubtedly one of the more talented quarterbacks in the league, so why he hasn’t been drafted to a team speaks to a bigger question.

If the NBA and WNBA are in full support of their athletes advocating for change, then why is the NFL punishing an athlete for the same kind of activism?

I don’t currently have an answer, but if you may, email samantha.gilbert@coloradocollege.edu with your thoughts.

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