Here we go again. A while back, I wrote an article about Colin Kaepernick’s attempts to raise awareness to various injustices in the U.S. by kneeling during the National Anthem before NFL games. My conclusion was that Kaepernick has every right to protest in whatever way he sees fit, and that he seemed to be trying to respect the country in how he went about his protest. That is still my view.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen comments on Facebook ranging from “Yeah, he has the right, but I don’t like it” to “I support this fully and would do the same” to “This is totally disrespectful to the Flag, and he should be in prison!” I’ve even seen some people claim that Kaepernick himself has changed his story on why he knelt. As far as I can tell, his story has been very consistent. He originally sat during the Anthem because he felt that standing was giving at least tacit consent to the injustices he saw, especially towards veterans and minorities. In fact, here is an article from last year showing him with the Green Beret that advised him to kneel instead, as kneeling before the flag is seen as a sign of respect.
Of course, I understand why critics would see it differently. They will say that standing is the respectful thing to do, and I’ll go ahead and assume that while they are at home watching the game, they get up off their couches and stand while the Anthem is being played, with their hands over their hearts and their hats removed. But surely there are different ways to show respect. Kneeling is a very traditional sign of respect, for example. In the Wiki I just linked there is a photograph of a military officer kneeling with the flag, as a show of respect to someone who lost a loved one (and to the flag, by extension).
But Kaepernick and the NFL players who have joined him are kneeling as a form of protest. That’s certainly true. So, they do disagree with at least certain aspect of American society. Is that what is disrespectful? I’m not sure how. The U.S. has a long tradition of peaceful protest, and many of our most important civil rights came about due to such protests, some of which were very inconvenient for others in society.
One of the things that continues to baffle me throughout this conversation is the question of ‘proper’ protesting. Protesting, by its very nature, is a sign of disagreement. A person can respectfully disagree with another person, or even with an idea or a nation. Disagreement, by itself, is not disrespect. However, it is almost always painful or slighting to the person on the other side of the disagreement. This is human nature. If a person tells you that he or she strongly disagrees with you, it’s hard not to feel hurt, perhaps even attacked. If the person says, “I still respect you, however,” this lessens the blow, but doesn’t completely eliminate it.
I suspect this is how many people feel when they see NFL players kneel. The players say that they are protesting injustices in our society. Some people might think “But I didn’t cause that injustice! Why are you attacking me?” That response, while understandable, is misguided. These players are not attacking specific people. They are trying to raise awareness of a problem that has not yet been solved. Certainly, things are better for minorities in America than they were fifty years ago, but they are far from fine. We need to be reminded of this from time to time.
That’s going to ruffle some feathers (or some flags?), but it’s not disrespectful. There is nothing in the original Constitution about honoring the flag. In fact, the history of fetishizing the U.S. flag as some sort of symbol of the country and purity of ideology is relatively new. The rules about how to treat the flag are less than 100 years old, and many of the things we take for granted about respect for the flag are even more recent.
But what I find more troubling is the selective use of this flag worship. In 2006, Kid Rock wore the flag as a poncho during a Superbowl concert, and I don’t recall people up in arms over it (though a Democrat from Georgia apparently didn’t like it!). I’ve seen flag bathing suits, scarves, and even beach towels (the flag isn’t supposed to touch the ground!). But kneeling before it as a sign of protest is somehow disrespectful? Come on. You tell me why certain people are bothered by this form of protest, but not by the flagrant ways other people treat the flag, contrary to the rules we were taught as children.
I personally don’t care about those rules. The flag isn’t America. It’s an object. If you are religious, you aren’t supposed to worship idols. If you aren’t, well…you probably don’t worship the flag anyway. Nothing in this world inherently deserves our praise. That must be earned, and when your own nation is doing things that you think are not only unworthy of praise, but even problematic, then you should speak up about it. How you go about it matters, of course. You can’t harm other people, for example. But kneeling during the anthem doesn’t hurt anyone. It’s a basic right we have as Americans. It’s the First Amendment. It’s first because it’s very important for protecting our liberties.
The truth is that there is almost no way for NFL players to protest that would make certain critics happy. Anyone who complains that they are millionaires and/or ungrateful isn’t going to care about how they protest. They will criticize them regardless, as long as they are still noticeable. But a protest that isn’t noticed is pointless.
When President Trump decided to wade into this (at a rally in Alabama, no less, which just made me have to hear even more jokes directed at my home state…and I can’t even defend it because damn…those people cheered him!). . . when he decided to take a stand, as President, by calling on American citizens to be fired for exercising their First Amendment rights, he made a big mistake. The NFL is more unified on this issue than ever before. Their cause is growing, not shrinking. They are linking arms; they are unified.
Frankly, I’ve never seen NFL players show each other more respect than they are right now. Owners, coaches, players, even the commissioner, are all on the same side on this. It’s a strange thing to see, and it’s coming from a group of people who are tired of being told that they must remain silent to the injustices that they see in our country.
Do they respect the flag? Sure seems like it. In any case, I respect the hell out of them for making a stand….so to speak.