Given the latest big deal on the issue of free speech between the president and the NFL, it might be time to consider what's what in the law and how it applies to our very fascinating current events.
First, free speech is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Basically, except for certain exceptions, such as yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater, for example, the amendment stops the government from preventing you and I from saying what we wish.
Outside of that, your right to say what you want is limited only by restrictions based on legal principles such as slander, for example, or of your employer to require you to hold your tongue while working. You can still say what you want, but you aren't protected from the consequences. You might get fired if, for instance, you say things at work that cost your employer business, or even might cost business.
On the NFL protests by certain players, the question is now whether their employer is ok with that. Here, the NFL is in fact supportive of the players publicly disrespecting the flag, so there is no limit on the player's ability to take a knee, either from the state or by employer rule.
Some people say that the flag is just a flag, a piece of cloth, but this misses the purpose of the flag. The flag of our country stands as a symbol of the republic, and the constitution which establishes it. It stands for the principles of freedom as set forth in that constitution. It's us, and all we believe in as for our ideas of freedom and good government. Remember the words of the pledge, "with freedom and justice for all." Those principles have served us very well over the years since our founding, propelling our country to world wide dominance, even hegemony, yet a soft hegemony that allows others to prosper as well. Many countries use our example of success to establish their own governing principles.
This is why people are offended by the player's disrespect for the flag. It is in fact disrespect for our institutions, our laws and our ideas of the rights of citizens, fair play and justice. As many point out, our sons and daughters have died to protect those rights from those who would take them from us, and respect for that sacrifice and for the institutions of our republic is morally called for by all thinking people.
That's to say the flag can be legally disrespected, even burned, as an act of speech, but one shouldn't do it, morally, at least for frivolous or incorrect reasons.
Understanding all that, one can put the facts of this dispute into better perspective.
President Trump, as per his right to speak frankly on the subject of disrespecting the flag, is perfectly correct to point out that he thinks it is hugely wrongheaded to act this way, and that he thinks the league should fire anyone who does it.
In the exact same way, the players can take a knee all they want, and are perfectly within their first amendment rights to do so, as long as their employer doesn't object. Here, there is no objection from the NFL to this action.
Trump can't force the league to fire the players using the power of the state, but he can certainly say he thinks the NFL should.
The players shouldn't disrespect the flag for spurious notions of social justice, but they can do it and will properly expect that no government institution or official will use the power of the state to make them stop.
So, in summary, the constitution and the Republic it establishes guarantees the right of the president and the players to speech that the other strongly disagrees with. The players could even stomp on and soil the flag, and then burn it, while laughing heartily, and the government will protect their right to do it.
Nobody's free speech is being infringed. In fact, quite the opposite - everyone is speaking freely without a care in the world that the state will stop them.
The founder's of our republic, and the principles on which that republic was established, win big.
Now, don't get me started on the logic of disrespecting the flag, symbol of all that the players think they want but don't have. There's been talk of doing it for some sort of "social justice," a term that means anything and nothing.
The most specific thing I've heard in complaint is that the police pick on black folk disproportionately, but the police they presumably are complaining about are almost certainly local or state police, not federal. Thus, their aim at the national flag is of course misplaced, missing entirely the target they want to hit. If anything, it would be the feds who they would legally call on to intervene on the local level to solve the problem they believe they see.
Further, they would presumably be appealing to the laws of the republic to protect them from local police abuse, laws passed and enforced through the mechanisms and institutions established by the constitution they disrespect through their attack on the flag.
If the laws are not, in their opinion, sufficient to address their concerns, then there are well established and understood processes for either changing the law, or passing a new one.
Again, they disrespect the very thing that stands with them and protects them from injustice.
So, a foolish, misplaced protest, aimed illogically and ignorantly on the very thing they need to redress grievance. This is actively supported by the NFL, which angers their customers, and is obviously contrary to their business interests.
Nevertheless, everyone is speaking freely and annoying each other, as the founders wished it to be.
It will be interesting to see all this plays out in the next few months.