In a story about tattoos in the workplace that was written by the Kansas City Star and published Tuesday by The Buffalo News, it was noted that employers generally have the right to discriminate against prospective and current employees who have visible body art or piercings or both.
For years, state courts have ruled in favor of companies that argued they had the right to enforce dress-code policies, thereby trumping rights to freedom of expression. In other words, if employees felt that strongly about showing off their tattoos and violating company policy, they could look for another job. The company is allowed to make its own rules and protect its image.
How is this connected to sports?
Marshawn Lynch avoided fines by showing up for interviews with the media covering the Super Bowl, but he said nothing of consequence and became a bigger distraction by saying little than cooperating. In fact, he's fortunate that the NFL didn't fine him or hand down a more severe punishment.
Lynch has his right to say what he pleases or say nothing at all. After all, as people who supported him said, this is America. He has a right to free speech. In fact, they are right. That's how it works in the United States. Nobody appreciates the importance of that more than the journalists covering the Super Bowl.
What many people don't understand is that the NFL is not a democracy. All but the Green Bay Packers are privately owned franchises that make up a single entity that generates some $9 billion a year. The league sets the rules and routinely hands down fines and/or suspensions for numerous infractions that would otherwise fall under the umbrella of freedom of expression.
The league prohibits coaches and players from criticizing officials, for example, because it can even though it violates rights to free speech. Remember, this is the same entity that fines players who wear gear that hasn't been approved by the NFL. I'm not saying it's fair. I'm saying that's how the league operates. Never mind fair and unfair, right or wrong. None applies here.
Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman made a great point this week when he said everyone in NFL personnel (see: Goodell, Roger) should be obligated to speak to the media, too, just like the players. Sherman was right on every level but one. He doesn't make the rules. The NFL does.
Every player knows he's giving up certain Constitutional rights when he signs a contract and agrees to follow its rules and regulations. After all, it's not a right to play in the league but a privilege. In fact, if the NFL felt so inclined, it also could fire its players for having tattoos. It wouldn't go that far because it would rid itself of a large population of players and damage the overall product.
Lynch agreed to the same terms as every other player when he signed his deal, which is why he repeatedly has been fined in recent years for not speaking to the media. This isn't about Lynch and the media or Lynch's right to remain silent. It's about Lynch and the NFL. If he doesn't like the rules, he can walk away from the game and find another job. The same goes for every other player.
It's no different in the real world. If you mouth off about the boss, you can be fired. If you refuse to communicate, thus fail to represent the company in a manner it deems suitable, you can be fired. There are rules and regulations that come with every company.
Fans like to view football as a game. They should remember that the NFL, first and foremost, is a business.