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Football players, like all Americans, may protest

Updated: 
September 12, 2017 - 12:05am

The sight of 12 Cleveland Browns football players kneeling in a prayer circle during the national anthem before an exhibition game last month did not sit well with many in the national television audience.

Some veterans took it as an insult. Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, a Vietnam War veteran and longtime Browns fan, said he is done cheering for Cleveland: “I will NEVER attend a sporting event where the draft-dodging millionaire athletes disrespect the veterans who earned them the right to be on that field,” Justice O’Neill said on Facebook.

The heated emotions are understandable. But the players have the right to engage in protest. Justice O’Neill should understand that better than anyone. It is disappointing when a jurist criticizes the exercise of a fundamental American right.

As for players, they should also know that sometimes free speech has consequences. Colin Kaepernick was the first NFL player to protest during the national anthem. In 2016, as a player for the San Francisco 49ers, he began sitting during the national anthem to bring attention to racial inequality. He became a free agent and has yet to be signed by another team.

Left and right in America both have forgotten that freedom of speech is hollow if it is never uncomfortable. Athletes have a right to make the unpopular choice of protesting during the national anthem. Jurists should uphold the right to dissent.

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