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Local businesses in Cumberland and Lancaster Counties respond to NFL controversy

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MECHANICSBURG, Pa. -- Central Pennsylvania businesses are responding to the recent NFL protests.

Many NFL players took a knee or linked arms during the National Anthem after President Donald Trump's criticism.

April Kelly-Woessner, professor of political science at Elizabethtown College, said, "People always point to the First Amendment and we start talking about First Amendment rights."

But Kelly-Woessner said the controversy isn't about that. The First Amendment says the government can't infringe on your right to protest and speak.

"We're dealing with the NFL, and the NFL is not a government agency. The NFL is completely within its rights to have a code of conduct for its employees," Kelly-Woessner said.

And she said private businesses have those same rights.

Trop Gun Shop in Lancaster County posted on Facebook it is suspending all NFL Game Day Events in response to the protests.

And one business in Mechanicsburg is also reacting.

Shawn Smeigh, the Vice President of RV 4 Wheel Drive & Performance Automotive, said, "I have no problem with freedom of speech and protests on certain issues that pro-athletes are doing and everything else. And I do think we need to take some light onto those issues as well. But I don't think we need to be using the flag and the national anthem to do that."

The RV 4 Wheel Drive & Performance Automotive now has an American flag waving outside of its family business instead of its "Open" flag following the protest.

Smeigh said, "It's our civil duty and obligation to respect the flag. And you know we feel strongly about that here at RV, and it's something we wanted to showcase."

But in a statement, Andy Hoover, the communications director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said businesses like Trop Gun Shop are missing the point of the issue: "A business is free to sponsor any kind of promotional events it wishes. But the owners of this business, like President Trump, have completely missed - or conveniently ignored - the reason why these protests are happening: In towns and cities around the country, people of color are mistreated by the police. That has to change. Peaceful protest in all of its forms will continue until those circumstances change."

Although businesses and the NFL are both within their rights, Kelly-Woessner said their actions should be in their consumers' best interests.

"For private business, the same question is who is your audience? Who is your market? And what is their response to this protest?" she said.

Kelly-Woessner adds the bigger issue is if Trump uses his role in government to call for the NFL to fire players or by calling for mass boycotts, which would violate the First Amendment.