Property Rights Are Absolute, Too

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Writing at Inc., business columnist Suzanne Lucas speaks up for the NFL's recent decision to insist on players either standing for the National Anthem or remaining off the field before games. Lucas is not a football fan, but she "absolutely" supports freedom of speech and frames the issue in terms of the players being on their employers' clocks during the time in question.

So far so good, but I have to part ways here:

Stealing is wrong, no matter the excuse. (Image of Robin Hood via Pixabay.)
Athletes who have a job. We don't say, "Jim isn't an employee--he's a CPA!" Yeah, he can be both, and most likely is. Football players aren't at-will employees (like almost all of us in the United States), as they do have contracts. But, that doesn't make the NFL completely impotent in their ability to enforce workplace rules.

You certainly have more rights off the clock than on, but even those aren't completely absolute. [links omitted]
Lucas is on the right track when she implies that the NFL has a right to demand a certain standard of conduct from its employees, but this is not because rights "aren't completely absolute." It's because rights -- including the property rights of the employers here -- are absolute.

In this case, employees were using the time they sold to their employers -- and media exposure resulting from their employment -- to advocate a political agenda. This is no different than, say someone working for a political campaign, a charity, or a church, during work time and using some of his employer's other resources, such as phones, computers, or office supplies in the process.

An employer may choose to allow this or not, but that's his prerogative because (1) he hired his worker to do a job, and (2) he doesn't owe his employee property beyond payment for his services. And -- although this is redundant, common confusion about freedom of speech (among other things) requires it -- an employer does not owe an employee a forum for expressing ideas he may or may not agree with. The NFL barring kneeling protests on its own dime does not in any way diminish the rights of its players: They are free (and can surely afford) to buy their own air time or support their own political causes on their own time. But commandeering the pre-game show to do this was presumptuous at best, and arguably was theft even without the owners having to make their wishes explicit.

The kneeling protests are not a free speech issue. They are a property rights issue.

-- CAV

P.S. Lucas also mentions being opposed (as I am) to government subsidies for NFL stadiums. This weakens the moral position of the NFL owners, but that is an argument for ending such subsidies, not for further eroding property rights by, say, forcing the owners to allow these protests.

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