Legal Blog

Telebriefs®: Can the NFL Discipline Football Players Who Protest the National Anthem?

Politics aside, there is a lot of discussion regarding the NFL football players who have protested and continue to protest the National Anthem. The football players, as American citizens, generally have the right to free speech under the First Amendment, but this does not necessarily protect them as employees of the teams for which they have contracted to play. As Oliver Wendell Holmes said back in 1891, “An employee may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be employed.” NFL football players are employed by private sector employers and, although they have the right to freedom of speech, they may be disciplined by their private employers because of their actions. In this case, the NFL game operations manual reportedly states, “The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem. During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.” Therefore, if any of the employers (NFL team owners) want to discipline any of the players for protesting, theoretically they could (unless it would be judged as being “without just cause” under the collective bargaining agreement in effect between the players’ union and the NFL). To learn more about how this applies to employees in the private workplace, listen to this week’s Telebrief here.

Also in this week’s Telebrief: Republican William Emanuel joins the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and whether sexual orientation is a protected classification under Title VII.

Questions about First Amendment rights or other topics from this week’s Telebrief?


Contact Howard at or 410-209-6417



About the Telebriefs®

The Telebriefs® are 30-minute, information-packed phone calls geared towards executives, HR directors, supervisors, managers, and business owners. Join Howard K. Kurman, as he discusses employment law developments occurring over the past two weeks that will most significantly impact employers nationwide. These twice-monthly phone calls are an easy way to stay current and compliant with the latest employment law developments that will significantly affect you and your company. The goal is to provide information and insights to help executives stay current with the latest workplace law developments and in front of trends, to enable proactive policy-making and management. Our guarantee: You will learn something useful, on every call!


Howard Kurman | 410-209-6417

Howard K. Kurman is an employment attorney. Mr. Kurman regularly counsels clients on all aspects of proactive employment/labor issues. He represents employers ranging in size from as small as 20 employees to those employers with geographically disparate locations consisting of over 4,000 employees. Mr. Kurman assures, through regular contact with his clients, that they promulgate and maintain the most effective employment policies that will, to the extent possible, minimize their legal exposure in today’s litigious workplace. Mr. Kurman offers advice on employee handbooks, employment agreements, and covenants not to compete as well as confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. Previously, Mr. Kurman was the chair of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group.

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