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Free speech is more than a 'right wing' cause

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

If you didn't know better, you might think -- as some people appear to believe -- that "free speech" has become some sort of a right-wing plot.

That's because we see so many prominent examples these days of "free speech" used as an excuse to promote right-wing provocateurs and suppress, if possible, provocateurs on the other side.

President Donald Trump provided a fresh example Tuesday morning with a tweet attacking ESPN host Jemele Hill one day after her suspension for criticizing Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on social media.

Hill said Jones statement that any Cowboys player who "disrespects the flag" during the National Anthem will not play had created a problem for his players, particularly the black ones. "If they don't kneel," she said, "some will see them as sellouts."

As almost everyone knows by now, some players have taken to kneeling instead of standing during the anthem following a trend launched by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who said he was protesting questionable shootings of unarmed African-Americans by police.

That's a worthy cause, although taking a knee is an unfortunately vague way to express it. A vague message is easily misinterpreted and hijacked by critics who call it a protest against the nation's flag and anthem. The problem is not so much in what the players are saying, but in what others are hearing.

Leading that pack if misinterpreters has been President Trump, who has taken breaks from bigger problems in the world to call for the protesting players and Jemele Hill, who described Trump in another social media blast as a "white supremacist," to be fired.

She came under fire for violating ESPN's social media policy with that remark but was not punished until her later tweets included a suggestion that her followers boycott advertisers of the Cowboys to protest Jones' policy.

I know the charges and countercharges flying back and forth can be confusing, but welcome to the Age of Trump, who seems more eager to roil troubled waters than calm them, if he thinks it will please his base.

Earlier Tuesday, Trump tweeted veiled threats to National Football League's "tax breaks" if owners and coaches don't start firing protesting players.

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(c) 2017 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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