Free speech — on company time?


To the Editor,

There is ample evidence to support the notion I would never be accused of being a deep thinker. My wife of 38 years has often observed, without challenge from those who know me, I tend to view situations in something of a black and white context. “It is what it is” was a mantra heard often by those who spent much time around me. While I fully support the concept people are entitled to their own opinion, it often appears to me that much of life is either one way or the other, so arguments relying on the notion some things are grey, tend to puzzle me.

Apparently, so called deep thinkers must consider a multitude of variables before engaging definitive conclusions. Some would have us believe only true enlightenment and intellectual superiority are realized by analyzing life situations in the context of what happened, when it happened, and how it happened. In those particular contexts, a situation being regarded as black or white seems relatively simple to me. It is the ever puzzling context of “why” something happened that seems to be the most often venue of grey to much of society.

Accordingly, I am puzzled by the seemingly obstinate response of NFL players regarding the appropriate demeanor during the playing of our National Anthem prior to kickoff of a football game. I’ve heard some say it has nothing to do with their feelings toward the military. Others have stated it has nothing to do with patriotism.

Those offering that perspective say what it really has to do with is what they perceive to be certain injustices of American society toward certain groups of society and view this as an opportunity to express their dissatisfaction with those perceived injustices. It has been stated by many, they believe this to be their only platform to engage in free speech and expression to draw attention to these issues. They opine that unless you’ve walked in their shoes and experienced their life lessons, you lack the ability to understand their position. They say we “just don’t get it.”

It is true the entirety of understanding life events is directly bound to our capacity to relate to the experience. I’ll never experience what I’ve been told to be the absolute feeling of fulfillment said to accompany the experience of giving birth. I can only relate to that life experience in the context of the feeling of fulfillment experience by simply being a father, not the actual birth giving. The lack of being unable to experience the necessary labor event should not diminish the experience of the event of being a father. They’re just different experiences. It is what it is and that’s all it is.

It seems to me the National Anthem issue hinges on an element I haven’t heard discussed. That issue is an inherent belief of equality and how it reconciles to privilege. You see, NFL fans like to think of those guys in the home team uniform as “our guys.” Fans relish the vicarious thrill of their talent by observing it, supporting it and even obsessing over it on occasion.

We tend to think of those privileged with this multitude of talent as our extended family, our friends, the kind of guy we’d like to have a beer with talk a little football and engage in an otherwise equal manner. Somehow those actions seem to placate the notion that while we’re certainly not equal to them in talent, surely we are somehow equal to them with respect to other rights and privileges in our free society. They are, after all, “our guys” and we’re “their fans.”

I think then, it is confusing to us to understand this National Anthem issue on a core central notion of the equality many of them maintain is their cause, when we fans seem to understand something these athletes do not. We fully understand that not a single one of us would continue to be employed if we decided one day to use our professional employment platform to promote a perceived societal injustice.

Can you imagine, a FedEx or UPS person, dressed in full company uniform, and while on “company time” putting a note on the packages they deliver bemoaning society’s insensitivity to their race, creed, color, background, religious preference, sexual preference, or some other issue?

Can you visualize your surgeon, dressed in full medical garb, patient chart in hand, on hospital owned property, using the company public address microphone to express outrage, pro or con, about abortion rights? Perhaps, your fireman dressed in uniform and on company time maintaining before they proceed to put out your fire, he and his fellow firefighters, lock arms as a gesture of solidarity against the inhumane treatment of animals? After all, these parties are exercising free speech on the only platform available to them, are they not?

Of course, you wouldn’t expect that sort of sentiment from every other profession we can imagine and most of us work for employers who respect our viewpoints and causes, nonetheless require us to express them on our own time. Those same employers understand our right to free speech, but often have employment policies in place that limit our free speech on company time and premises.

We even have the right of free speech to the point, we are free to do or say something contrary to company wishes and on company time as long as we understand the company has an equal right to end our relationship.

So then, why is it the expectation of NFL players, they should be afforded an understanding on company time, on company property, and while wearing a company uniform, the rest of us are not? Why are they to be afforded this privilege the rest of us aren’t? Are some more equal than others? Why, Why, Why….there’s that “why thing” again. Maybe it’s really a simple matter that can be reduced to a black or white conclusion.

Maybe it is the NFL players who “just don’t get it?”

Gary Lawrence

Mount Airy

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