They have no right to do so.
Other players seem to believe they have the right and are joining in, and the ones that don't aren't interfering. The coaches and trainers aren't penalizing the players and joined in, so they say the players have the right. The owners are also not penalizing, and have also joined in, so according to them they have the right. The league has come out and said they're not penalizing the players, and have said they're encouraging of it so they
seem to believe the players have the right. There's no State laws prohibiting their protest, so on that level they're still good. Federal? Nope, no none there either.
All irrelevant. The fact that an authority has the power to say "no", means you don't have a "right" to do the thing you are doing. They are currently being allowed to do so by the teams and the league. That's not the same as having the right to do so.
The fact is, and this is something I've stated repeatedly, the league could tell the players they can't do this if they want to. They could punish players who do so anyway if they want to. They have chosen not to. That's not the same as the players having the right to do so. And it's certainly nonsensical to argue that the league "can't" or "shouldn't" punish them for this, because they have a "right" to do so, when you're basing that right purely on the fact that the league has not yet chosen to punish them for this.
So, the fans? Well ...
Yeah. The fans. Also known as the customers. Kind of the most important element here.
The whole thing is silly IMO. The league (and many times, and frankly many players as well) are bowing to pressure based on the cause being protested. As I pointed out earlier in the thread, there are many pundits, writers, and activists being very public about declaring anyone who doesn't participate in the protests as racists. If you stand for the anthem you are standing for white supremacy. In that context, and in the absence of the league saying "no, all players must stand and show respect during the anthem", you're going to get a lot of players doing so, not because they think it's the right thing to do, and not because they are exercising a "right", but purely because they don't want to be the ones singled out for not caring about black lives.
Similarly, the league is afraid to put their foot down for the same reason. The problem is that this is a completely moronic position for them to take. It's not about the cause itself, and if they were smart they could tailor their response to that very point. If they allow players to protest in this manner, then they must allow any player to engage in a similar protest, for any reason. If they don't, then they put themselves in the untenable position of having to be arbiters of which causes are worth enough to justify a protest during the anthem, and which are not.
The league could very easily put their foot down on protests of this type, making it clear that it's not the cause being protested that they oppose, but the use of the national anthem as a means to protest. You make it clear that they are free to support any cause they wish while not on the field, not in uniform, and not during the anthem. And you make it clear that this is non-negotiable, and there will be suspensions and fines for any player using the game as a means to engage in demonstrations.
By being wishy washy on this, they're making things worse, not better. If they'd taken this position on day one, we wouldn't be in the situation we're in now. It's not going to get better until they finally act. Saying "we think players should stand and be respectful, but we wont require it" is not sufficient. It's just a green light for more protests. Because while they are doing and saying nothing to discourage the behavior, the players and teams are under significant pressure to allow and continue the behavior.
They just need to knock this off now.
Ratings are down, as they were last year. They tend to dip early and build back up for Playoffs and Super Bowl. Attendance is down compared to the same Week 4 numbers last year and the year before, but it isn't as low as 2014. So with the actual facts and not emotional narratives it looks like even the fans feel the players have the right to protest, or are indifferent, as well.
The same fans who are booing the players while they are doing this? The same fans who are waving signs denouncing what the players are doing? While this is certainly anecdotal, if you do a google search on images of fans supporting/opposing NFL protests, you see a whole lot of folks with signs disagreeing with the protests during the anthem. I'm not sure I could even find a single one in support, by someone actually in an NFL stadium (the few I could find were folks at what looked like other protest marches, holding signs in support).
It's pretty clear that "the fans" overall, are not happy with what's going on. I'm not sure what "actual facts", you're talking about. The only facts that matter is an increasing number of very pissed off fans. When your entire business model revolves around making those fans happy, that's not a good thing.
And that's just the numbers. If you want to argue the reason there's just as much evidence it's because people's attention spans are shrinking due to Netflix and DVRs (since the numbers are down for pretty much all sports), or you could say fans are boycotting player condition due to concussions and such.
If that's the excuse you choose to use. Again though, you'd think that in an era of flagging interest, doing something that makes those who still have interest upset with the sport, isn't a great idea. Rocking the boat you are in, is pretty dumb, but that's what these players are doing.
But who are you going to believe?
The fans? My own eyes?
Facts or a businessman turned politician who was burned by the NFL in the '80s and has a long documented history of lying and holding grudges?
This is not about Trump.