The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees every person's right to speak out on controversial issues. But it doesn't exempt the speaker from the public's reaction to unpopular speech.
As a general rule, professional sports are the ultimate meritocracy.
The best, generally speaking, play. The minute someone better, faster and/or cheaper, comes along, personnel changes are made.
So why hasn't former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick been signed by a National Football League team for this upcoming season?
NFL teams always need good quarterbacks, and Kaepernick's past performance demonstrates that he's clearly good enough to be a backup for some teams, maybe even a starter for others.
But Kaepernick's situation isn't quite that simple. That's why the leader of the NAACP is requesting a meeting with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
In a league in which black men play increasingly prominent roles as players, coaches and general managers, the NAACP contends that Kaepernick is a victim of discrimination.
He, almost certainly, is that. But it's not illegal discrimination. Kaepernick's behavior, at least for now, has made him more trouble than he's worth to NFL teams.
Kaepernick once led the 49ers to the Super Bowl, but his career has been on the downward trajectory since then. Although a tremendous athlete and football player, he's pretty average by NFL standards.
In terms of public relations, Kaepernick is a disaster waiting to happen. At least, that's what NFL teams appear to fear.
Kaepernick drew national publicity last year when he refused to stand for the National Anthem. He viewed himself as a black man making a statement against racial oppression and injustice, a position many people share. Since then, other athletes have followed Kaepernick's example.
But in demonstrating his contempt for this country, animosity toward police officers and disdain for the military, he touched a nerve among football fans who either don't share his views or resent how Kaepernick expressed them.
Since NFL teams are in the business of trying to please their customers, not alienate them, they are understandably reluctant to sign a player who will be the subject of controversial news coverage every day. They're looking for players to help them win, not be a distraction from the business at hand.
The NAACP isn't happy that Kaepernick remains without a team, and it's joined a number of other individuals and groups who are trying to pressure teams into signing Kaepernick.
"No player should be victimized and discriminated against because of his exercise of free speech — to do so is in violation of his rights under the Constitution and the NFL's own regulations," NAACP chief Derrick Johnson wrote in his letter to Commissioner Goodell.
Actually, that's not correct as far as the U.S. Constitution goes. First Amendment rights protect individuals from the government. They don't guarantee quarterbacks a job in the NFL.
Kaepernick certainly has the right to speak. He did so repeatedly in a loud and clear manner.
But just as he's entitled to speak, others are entitled not to agree with him or want him to play on their favorite team. Team owners are well within their rights to take that factor into consideration when they build their rosters.
It's Kaepernick's misfortune that he is not a quarterback of the caliber of the Patriots' Tom Brady, the Jaguars' Cam Newton or the Cowboys' Dak Prescott. If he was, fans would swallow their bile and cheer his touchdown passes. Because he's not, Kaepernick is a man without a team.
But give it a little more time. Teams — and fans — desperate for a quarterback and driven by the desire for wins may yet take a chance on him for this season. In the meantime, Kaepernick is damaged goods, just another guy who wanted to make a point while avoiding negative consequences of making that point.