If NASCAR team owners Richard Childress, Richard Petty or any others wanted to fire an employee for kneeling during the national anthem, could they?
North Carolina, home to an NFL team, NBA team, NHL team and nearly all the NASCAR teams in the Monster Energy Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series, is an Employment-at-Will state.
That means that an employer can fire an employee for whatever they wanted as long as no specific law forbids the action and as long as the firing is not based on age, race, sex, religion, national origin, color, disability or pregnancy.
“You can fire for any reason, good reason or bad reason, that doesn’t violate the law,’’ Dan Bowling, senior lecturing fellow, Duke University Law School, told NBC Sports.
“Someone taking a stance on a controversial political issue like kneeling at the anthem, absent any sort of employment contract addressing something like that … the employer would be in their right to fire them.’’
What about freedom of speech?
“There is no constitution right when we’re talking about expression because you’re talking about a private entity,’’ he said.
Childress and Petty were outspoken when asked before Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway if an employee kneeled for the anthem as many NFL players did.
If someone kneeled on his team, Childress said that person would “get … a ride on a Greyhound bus when the national anthem is over. Anybody that works for me should respect the country we live in. So many people gave their lives for it. This is America.’’
Petty told USA Today and The Associated Press: “Anybody that don’t stand up for (the anthem) ought to be out of the country. Period. If they don’t appreciate where they’re at … what got them where they’re at? The United States.”
Asked if a protestor would be fired, Petty said: “You’re right.’’
Andrew Murstein, majority owner of Richard Petty Motorsports told ESPN.com that he would not fire an employee for such an act.
“I would sit down with them and say it’s the wrong thing to do that, and many people, including myself, view it as an affront to our great country,” Murstein told ESPN in a text message. “If there is disenchantment towards the president or a few bad law enforcement officers, don’t have it cross over to all that is still good and right about our country.”
NASCAR issued a statement Monday that reinforced the idea of peaceful expressions.
“Sports are a unifying influence in our society, bringing people of differing backgrounds and beliefs together. Our respect for the national anthem has always been a hallmark of our pre-race events. Thanks to the sacrifices of many, we live in a country of unparalleled freedoms and countless liberties, including the right to peacefully express one’s opinion.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. used a quote from former President John F. Kennedy on peaceful protests that has been retweeted more than any other tweet he’s had.
Kneeling during the anthem started a year ago in the NFL with former quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who protested social injustices.
The issue gained attention last Friday when President Donald Trump said in a speech in Alabama that NFL owners should fire players who kneel during “The Star-Spangled Banner.’’ Trump tweeted about the subject during the weekend and praised NASCAR on Monday for standing for the anthem.
Not everyone has responded as favorably. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, one of only five coaches in NBA history with five or more championships, has been a critic of President Trump.
During the Spurs’ media day on Monday, Popovich addressed Trump’s comments and the reaction of Childress and Petty.
“I just heard a comment this morning from a NASCAR owner and from Mr. Petty that just blew me away,’’ Popovich said. “Just blew me away. Where (Childress) described the fact that he would get the Greyhound bus tickets ready for them to leave and they would be fired. And Mr. Petty, who said people that act the way we saw on Sunday, they should leave the country.
“That’s where I live. I had no idea that I lived in a country where people would actually say that sort of thing.’’