A bill that would allow refunds for professional sports fans offended by National Football League players who kneel during the national anthem will likely die this year in the Indiana General Assembly.

That prediction comes from Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma regarding a bill being proposed by Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus.

Citing potential constitutional violations, as well as possible illegal interference with private business, Bosma — a Republican from Indianapolis — told The Indianapolis Star he suspected Smith’s measure would likely be assigned to a committee, where it would die for this session.

NFL players across the country started kneeling during the national anthem after President Donald Trump criticized former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in late September for kneeling in protest of police brutality and racial injustice.

Story continues below gallery

Vice President Mike Pence, the Columbus native and former Indiana governor, flew to Indianapolis to be on hand for special ceremonies Oct. 8 honoring retired Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, then left the stadium with his wife Karen shortly after the pre-game national anthem, when some of the 49ers players knelt.

Trump said on Twitter that he instructed Pence to leave if any players knelt.

Smith said he was motivated to file the bill after taking his family to watch the Colts play the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 24 — two weeks before Pence walked out of Lucas Oil Stadium.

Since Smith, who represents District 59 in the state House of Representatives, announced his intention in late December to introduce the bill, the proposal has gained attention from news outlets nationwide, he said.

That has resulted in emails, pro and con, sent to Smith, he said.

Some of those emails contained language that Smith considered crude and intimidating, Smith said.

“There weren’t many specifics, and nobody threatened to kill me — but it was pretty close,” he said.

While Smith said Bosma has not shared his prediction on the bill with the sponsor, the House Speaker is probably correct in his assessment because the proposal has received plenty of criticism, Smith said.

Among the critics is Jane Henegar, executive director of ACLU Indiana.

Henegar accused Smith of attempting to use economic pressure to control the speech of private citizens, which is guaranteed by the U.S. Bill of Rights.

In response, Smith cited regulations affecting kneeling players enforced by professional basketball and soccer teams illustrates that his proposal is constitutional. Besides, the bill never called for a ban on kneeling, he said.

People who object to the kneeling claim the players’ actions constitute disrespect to the country.

Smith said he hopes professional football teams will embrace his idea and decide to issue first-quarter game ticket refunds on their own.

Legislative discussion

This year’s short session of the Indiana General Assembly, which began Tuesday, is expected to conclude March 14.

The local Third House sessions, sponsored by the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce, are scheduled to begin Jan. 22.

The 90-minute free weekly forum allows local residents to discuss pending legislation with their elected representatives.

Third House sessions begin at 7:30 a.m each Monday at Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St., and continue until lawmakers adjourn for the year.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.