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Public-College Student-Athletes and Game-Time Anthem Protests: Is There a Need for a Constitutional-Analytical Audible?
Communication Law and Policy  (IF),  Pub Date : 2019-01-02, DOI: 10.1080/10811680.2018.1551035
Carmen Maye

National-anthem-related protests among NFL players have revealed complexities associated with symbolic counter-speech tied to American symbols of patriotism. For public-college officials and coaches, who are bound by the First Amendment, the handling of game-time anthem protests may reverberate beyond the court of public opinion. Because uniformed collegiate student-athletes occupy a constitutional limbo-land in which they are distinguishable both from members of the general adult population and their non-athlete student peers, the traditional framework for evaluating limits on their game-time political counter-speech may prove unwieldy. This article presents an alternative constitutional-analytical approach that contemplates the unique status of collegiate student-athletes and the nature of competitive teams. Within this potential framework, administrator-imposed limits on anthem protests would be reviewed strictly. Courts considering coach-imposed limits on anthem protests, however, might opt for a less rigid form of review that allows for a more direct balancing of interests.