Can NFL players be fired for taking a knee?

There has been a lot of controversy in Missouri and across the country about NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before games. It seems the country is quite divided over whether this is a freedom of speech issue or a respect for veterans issue. Even the president has spoken out about it. It seems one major concern is whether these players could be fired due to their actions. 

For most employees, employment is at-will, which means the employer can fire the employee at any time without any concrete reason. So, essentially, if the NFL players were at-will employees, the answer would be simple because their employer could fire them. However, that is not the case because players are contract employees, according to Sports Illustrated. However, it is still very possible, despite the contract, that a player could be sent to the unemployment line. 

First, it is important to note the First Amendment right to free speech does not extend to the workplace, even for those under a contract. It is a right to not have the government impose upon your abilities to speak freely, but your employer does not have to recognize those same rights. Second, in a general NFL contract, players give their teams a lot of power over firing decisions, leaving it up to their discretion. So, a team owner who is not happy with the protest could very well fire those players who participate. 

The bottom line is that what you do on the job or what an NFL player does on the job is not really protected under your right to free speech regardless of whether you are at-will or contract. So, while teams have not yet fired protesting players, it is still an option. This information is only intended to educate and should not be interpreted as legal advice.

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