On Anthems, Flags, and Protests

I’ve been wrestling with whether to say something about this. I personally feel like it is a very (unnecessarily) divisive issue that has become something more than it ever should have been. Maybe that’s a product of living in an “outrage” culture, when people on either side of the political equilibrium have to scream louder than each other about the issue du jour, instilling their own biases based on whatever they want to make the complaint about.

Time hasn’t changed this. Colin Kaepernick first kneeled during the anthem last season, something that may have cost him his job as a quarterback in the NFL. I’m not going to comment on his capabilities as a player; I’m a relatively casual fan of sports and I don’t spend hours of my week determining if Player A is better than Player B – I leave that to professionals like Bill Barnwell – but I do know the guy led a team to a Super Bowl, which seems to indicate success in his sport.

But the issue shouldn’t be about his abilities on the field in the first place; he’s an American citizen making a statement for what he believes in, using the platform that he has as a professional athlete to speak for the people that can’t. Why people have a problem with this, regardless of his upbringing or current socioeconomic class, is baffling to me. Well, maybe not baffling giving the current state of this country and the person who leads it, and the people who helped elect him, but I also feel that Kaepernick’s (and others) silent protest has become about something that it’s not, mostly because of the narrative driven by the president and others like him.

The protest was never about disrespect for our country, our troops, or the flag. If it was about the flag, maybe folks would actually care about how people in this country already mistreat the flag, at least according to the US Flag Code (this is a great Twitter thread with numerous examples of how our flag is “disrespected” without anyone raising a fuss):

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Since “disrespecting the flag” is still the narrative being used, this courtesy of the US Flag Code Chapter 10: Respect for flag<br><br>A Thread</p>&mdash; HennyWise (@koopa_kinte) <a href=”https://twitter.com/koopa_kinte/status/911715150507454464″>September 23, 2017</a></blockquote>

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The National Anthem has been sung or played at the beginning of American sporting events for a very long time. It seems that the first occasion was during a little attended baseball game during the 1918 World Series in the midst of World War I. It kind of caught on and has remained a staple of American sports ever since. However, this does not mean it is always given the reverence that people seem to think Kaepernick is not giving it by refusing to stand.

Go to any sporting event at any level and you will see people doing anything but standing silently as the anthem is played. Even during yesterday’s protests at NFL games, people were booing and shouting at participating players. Just how “precious” is the anthem if only certain people – i.e. minority football players being paid “millions” by their billionaire owners – need to show it respect? It’s almost as if there’s another reason why so many people are upset about the protests that are occurring.

I’m not a person that says everyone should stand for the anthem when it is played. I personally have issues with the use of the anthem in certain contexts and I dislike the Pledge of Allegiance as well. But everyone should be able to do what they want when they want in all facets of their lives, and this includes standing up for the anthem. And they should be able to do this without judgement from others around them, just like I shouldn’t be telling everyone to sit down because that’s what I’m doing. And I also believe that people shouldn’t be able to call someone out for sitting, kneeling, or otherwise not participating while they themselves are talking to friends or looking at cell phones during what is supposed to be this super special event. And the same thing goes for the flag.

The flag has become a proxy for our military and Constitution, something that seems even more prevalent since 9/11. I personally dislike when people in my neighborhood put their flags out in the rain, or fail to illuminate them at night, things that are supposed to be avoided based on the Flag Code. But the flag is just a symbol of our country, similar to a bald eagle, and “disrespect” shouldn’t be viewed as denigrating our military and their sacrifices in defending our nation.

As a veteran who served in Iraq, I personally don’t feel that way and support the right to protest* by everyone in this country, as long as those protests aren’t directly harming others. And I don’t think that people should be fired for doing so, including professional athletes.

*This is not to say that all protests are okay “just because,” but a few hundred NFL players kneeling for the anthem – or skipping it all together – shouldn’t occupy the president’s thoughts when 3.4 million US citizens are currently without power, water, and other much needed resources). It just seems to me that there are more important things to worry about than how certain people are acting during a song, something that is rarely even shown on the television broadcast of sporting events and often happens while everyone is filing into their seats in the stadium.

If these protests are the thing that finally cause you stop watching football, so be it. The NFL probably won’t even notice you are gone in the grand scheme of things, and the games (and protests) will continue. I’m personally glad that other athletes with a similar platform – even from sports beyond football – have chosen to support and amplify the message of the original protest. There are many things that define our America, and one of them is the ability to peaceably protest injustice in the country, and Coiln Kaepernick (and his compatriots) are simply the latest to continue that tradition.

Until next time…

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