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Dershowitz: NFL owners in driver's seat on player protests

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz argued in an interview aired Sunday that NFL team owners are in the driver’s seat on the issue of racial justice protests at league games, citing the power of the owners to shut down the protests without violating the players’ rights.

“If you want to protests racism, then protest racism. But don’t protest the American flag, the national anthem, and the United States of America,” Dershowitz told radio host John Catsimatidis on AM 970 in New York.

“The players are entitled to kneel if the owners allow them to. But the owners could say no,” he added.

Dershowitz said the players’ rights to free speech and petition are not protected under the First Amendment in relation to their team franchise, a private entity, noting that the rights only stand in relation to the government.

The constitutional law scholar added that there would only be a constitutional issue if the government “put its thumb on the scale,” emphasizing that the NFL team owners are fully within their rights to crack down on the protests.

Dershowitz said it was completely up to the teams how they wanted to handle the protests, noting the unpopularity of the protests across the American public.

The professor’s comments come after league officials met team owners and the players’ union to discuss how address the protests. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league not issue an official policy requiring players to stand for the national anthem at league games. 

Controversy over the protests erupted again last month after President Trump ripped players who kneel during the anthem while calling the protests an attack against the American flag.

“I don’t know that the Obama administration would’ve handled this any differently,” Dershowitz said during the interview Sunday.

“I think President Obama would have said he disapproves of kneeling during the national anthem,” he said.

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