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 by Jon Burras
Know Your Rights

    In recent years we have witnessed many civil and personal uprisings and protests throughout the land. From alleged racial injustices to the legalization of gay marriage we have seen many acts of protests by people who wished to make a statement. These protest movements have become altogether common and a daily occurrence.

     When we observe these independent protests by either professional athletes or groups of citizens we are often led to believe by these individuals and the media that it is their First Amendment right to do so. Most people accept this reasoning without ever questioning its validity. We hold the First Amendment over us like a lucky charm or St. Christopher's medallion where we expect it to give us ultimate protection and unlimited rights no matter how unlawful or politically incorrect our behavior or words.

     The First Amendment clause is used over and over again when someone wishes to defend their actions, whether those actions are legal or illegal. There is a sense of magical reality that most people feel around the First Amendment. Many people believe that they have a carte blanche permission to do and say whatever they wish because of the First Amendment.

     In recent days many professional athletes have decided to protest alleged police brutality by sitting or kneeling while the national anthem is being played before each sporting contest. These athletes and their supporters claim that they have a First Amendment right to do so. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all. Athletes are employees of a business. It is the business who sets the rules of conduct during business hours and away from business hours. An athlete can stand or kneel during the national anthem only if this is written into his or her contract or if the business owner allows it to take place. (Government employees have many more exceptions).

     Many people have been fired from their jobs for actions that they have done while at work. This might include insubordination, poor work performance or any other matter. Most states have an "at will" labor force which means that an employer can let an employee go for no good reason at all. The owner of the business sets the standards and not the employee. If an athlete is taking a knee in protest during the national anthem it is not so because of the First Amendment. The justification is that the team owner either agrees with the cause and the protest, disagrees with the cause but allows his employees to express their own opinion or does not have the courage to reign in his employees. There are several professional baseball teams that have hair codes (New York Yankees and Florida Marlins). As a team member you must follow the code of conduct by not having any facial hair or long hair. The employer sets the standards, not the players.

     Many employees have been fired for actions that were taken away from work. An employee who receives a DUI after work hours might be fired. We have seen professional athletes who have been convicted of domestic violence being fired from their prospective team. While this action cannot be condoned, the reality is that what happened was done away from the work environment and not while on the job. The employee was fired anyways.

     Athletes only have the right to protest any cause as long as their employer allows it. These protest, either on the field, before a game or even off the field in their own charity work or social media posts, are not guaranteed by the First Amendment. You may be let go if you bring unfavorable attention to your corporation or embody a code of conduct that is not the image that the company wishes to present. The First Amendment is not going to help you. Protests only happen because an owner allows them. For instance, several ESPN sports analysts where either fired or suspended for their social media posts that occurred outside of work.

     Why aren't more athletes fired or demoted for their protests? The reason is money. In professional sports there is a lot of money at stake. An owner is in the business to make money and firing one of his athletes (an employee) might hamper his ability to make money. This will all change when you see protests that are not politically correct. What might happen if an athlete shows up to pre-game warm ups with a shirt that says "I support blue lives", "Say no to gay marriage", "All lives matter", "Rainbow lives matter", "Say no to abortion", "Save the arctic fox", "Say no to fur", "Don't eat meat" or "Say no to war".

     Now you have a problem where you are alienating your fan base because one player has chosen to use his public forum as a speaking platform. Not only will the fan base be angry but you will also have a divided locker room as many on your team do not feel the same as you do. A lineman in football might decide not to block for his star quarterback because the quarterback has been using his status to make a national protest. Unfortunately, we have seen over and over again that so many athletes have forgotten the meaning of team and are very selfish and only think about themselves.

    If a player is allowed to take a political stance then why can't a coach, owner, general manager, trainer, hot dog vendor, announcer, ground's crew or ball boy do the same? What would happen if the hot dog vendors at a game decided to protest under their First Amendment clause and stop selling hot dogs? What would happen if a coach took some time out of each game and stopped coaching in order to protest his particular cause? Athletes need to remember that they are employees and they do not have the right under the First Amendment to do anything that is not first approved of by their employer, either on the field of play or off of it.

     Citizens have the right to make their voices heard and protest in large groups. These protests do not include taking over a city intersection, entire streets or freeways. Burning cars, throwing rocks through windows and creating aggravated mayhem is not in the First Amendment but many somehow believe that it is. If you wish to protest something your protest needs to be in a city park or you must have a city permit to take over public space like a street or square.    

     While the First Amendment is often cited as a permission slip to run amuck, there are many limitations in its practicality. You cannot yell the word "fire" in a movie theater or mention the word "bomb" on an airplane. You cannot threaten the President with words in public or in written text. You are not allowed to liable or slander someone by telling untruths with the intent to harm someone. The First Amendment is not a prize that comes out of a cereal box. Unfortunately, this rather powerful protection of our Constitution is often exploited by ignorant protestors, liberal college professors and biased media outlets.   

     If approached by a police officer you do not have the right under the First Amendment to interfere, resist or disobey the commands of a police officer. If you are considered a "person of interest" then a police officer might have "reasonable suspicion" to stop and question you. You must provide identification. You must obey his commands. Your First Amendment does not allow you to run, fight, resist or harass a police officer. Somehow many have come to believe that the First Amendment is a free card to disorderly conduct.

    If detained or arrested, you do have the right to call for a supervisor to come on scene. You do have the right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one then one will be appointed for you. You do have the right to fight any charges against you but that will happen later in a court and not on the city streets. Many people errantly believe that the city streets are a place to defend their position. It is not. This belief will only get you into more trouble. Whether rightly or wrongly accused of something you must go along with the charges until you have your day in court to prove your innocence.

     If you are arrested the prosecutor must file charges against you within a reasonable amount of time. Most states have concurred that a reasonable amount of time is within 72 hours. If these charges are not filed at this time you must be released from custody. If you are accused of a misdemeanor crime you have the right to a speedy trial usually within 30 days. If you are accused of a felony crime you have the right to a speedy trial usually within 60 days. If you wave your rights to a speedy trial you might remain months or years in jail awaiting a trial.

    We all need to sit down and read the Constitution once again (for some for the very first time). Unfortunately, many who are claiming rights that don't belong to them have not learned how to read, never graduated from high school or neglected their educational opportunities. Many today know more about what their favorite celebrities are having for lunch and who won the last dancing competition than what their own Constitution affords them. These individuals make up their own rules and a conspiring and apologetic politically correct society allows them to get away with it.

     The First Amendment is a very powerful protection that needs to be honored and defended. However most people have abused this protection and have used it for cover for their out-of-control behavior. While it is true that racism, inequality and hate still exists in America, it is also true that America is filled with ignorance by many who do not know and understand their rights because they have not taken the time to learn them. If we are going to fight inequality in this country we might as well fight ignorance as well.