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Protesting the National Anthem
Posted at: Oct/12/2017 : Posted by: mel
Related Category: People, Politics & Gov, Watching America,
There has been a lot of media noise recently about professional athletes protesting the national anthem. The response to these protests have ranged from Presidential tweets to calls for boycotting the sporting events of these athletes. Others say the anthem itself is racial. Regardless of your personal stance, nothing creates controversy more than snubbing national symbols.
Colin Kaepernick, then quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers elected during a preseason game on 14 August 2016 to sit on the bench during the playing of the national anthem. He explained that his protest was of racially oriented police brutality. With the passage of another 14 months these protests have expanded to numerous NFL teams. There was even a case where the majority of a team stayed in the locker room and in the post-game interviews disparaged the one player who came on the field for the national anthem (a former Army Ranger).
This phenomenon is not new. While there have been numerous protest incidents over the years one of the most famous occurred in 1968 at the Olympics. Track stars Tommie Smith and John Carlos, both black after winning the gold and bronze medals in the 200 meter sprint each raised a black-gloved fist during the national anthem. This action was viewed by most as a black power salute. Smith in his autobiography “Silent Gesture” said that his gesture was a “human rights salute.”
I have no issue with learning that there are deep thinkers among the jocks of the NFL. Taking on great social issues is a worthy challenge in life. With the notoriety and financial resources that many of these football players have there is always the chance that they can create real and substantial change. Nevertheless, kneeling or staying in the locker room during the anthem comes off more as theater than a call for action.
As for the legal aspect of all this, the Supreme Court has ruled on similar cases in the past. The Federal Government is very tightly restricted in its ability to influence such things; this falls under the First Amendment and freedom of expression. On the other hand, the NFL is a private business and as such has some ability to restrict or dictate what players can do while in their employ and at their place of work “so to speak.”
Public money and the NFL have been very tightly linked for a number of years and some think this is reason enough for all players to respect the anthem. The majority of NFL stadiums have been constructed or renovated with public money including the Cowboys’ home in Arlington Texas. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance rated the Cowboys’ and their AT&T stadium as one of the most significant abusers of taxpayer funds to a total of $444 million. This includes the defense department paying the stadium for the right to put on patriotic pregame displays and flag ceremony’s to promote recruiting. Regardless, most players have clauses in their contracts that dictate “moral behavior”, but not patriotism.
Ultimately, when a players takes a knee when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played they are alerting us that we live in an imperfect world. That is not unreasonable, but what are they doing to make a difference…or are they waiting for someone else to change something. The United States has a number of less than glowing chapters in its biography; slavery, Japanese internment, Jim Crow laws and propping up petty dictators across the globe come quickly to mind. Having been elsewhere in the world it is still very clear that America is a great place, which explains why so many people from other parts of the globe aspire to migrate here. That does not mean the job of righting social wrongs is done, but America is a country that is great enough to publically face it ills and attempt change.
For most Americans it is a hard kick in the stomach when we see someone trashing our national symbols including the flag and the anthem. We come to expect this type of disrespect from sociopaths and megalomaniacs such as Kum Jung Un, the self-imposed demi-god of North Korea.
The hypocrisy of all this protesting needs to be pointed out as well. Nearly every player in the NFL has received a full college scholarship and an astronomical salary because of their ability to play a game. Despite all the disparaging remarks, this must truly be the land of milk and honey. One of the greatest strengths of America is that anyone, given enough drive, opportunity and resources can create change. Rather than thumbing their noses at traditions and symbols patriotism, why not leverage their public persona and personal resources to create change?
As for our national anthem, “The Star – Spangled Banner” is far from a perfect tribute. The full poem by Francis Scott Key includes 3 stanzas, though most of us can barely remember or sing the first. During the war of 1812 a group of escaped slaves was formed into the Colonial Marines by the British. These soldiers were promised freedom in exchange for their fighting for the British Royal Army. On August 24, 1814 these Marines met a force led by Lieutenant Key in what is now called the Battle of Bladensburg. The Colonial Marines severely routed Key’s forces. Empowered by their success, the main body of British troops quickly marched on the American capital where they set fire to the White House and the Capital building.
A few weeks after the Battle of Bladensburg, Key was on a British ship attempting to negotiate the release of his friend Doctor William Beanes. While watching the guns fire on Fort McHenry he penned “The Star – Spangled Banner” including the third stanza which goes:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Roughly translated Key’s is saying that the blood of all the former slaves (hireling) on the battlefield will wash away the pollution of the British forces. While we love the first stanza, clearly Key’s was still stinging from Bladensburg and had no love for the escaped slaves then fighting for the British.
I have to confess that I am emotionally moved when I hear the “The Star – Spangled Banner” performed well, but there are other songs that might be more universally acceptable including “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”
What a professional athlete does on their own time, including snubbing an invitation to the White House is beyond the control of their team and management. Nevertheless, what happens on the field and when the players are in uniform is the owners’ business. The NFL likes to tout that they are “America’s game”, but disrespecting American symbols while in uniform would seem to contradict that.
For myself all of this is a mixed bag. I like to spend my time doing much more active things on a Sunday afternoon than sitting in front of a television watching football. I know that America is a long way from perfect, but it is still a country and a land of opportunity that people aspire to immigrate to. I have hosted young people from all over the world and without exception, they all wanted to find a way to permanently live here. Having personally seen other parts of the world I have a great respect for what my forefathers have created for me.
I always stand for our national anthem at public events. I proudly fly Old Glory (our national flag) on a 25 foot flag pole at my home every day. I also know that our country is a work-in-progress, so if you want to create change you need to put the sweat into it, not merely kneel expecting others to make change. Age has taught me that not everyone feels as I do. I’m fine with that as long as you don’t get in my face and tell me I am somehow doing it wrong.
Years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled flag-burning was an exercise of the First Amendment, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted, “It is poignant but fundamental that the flag protects those who hold it in contempt.”
If you’ll respect my patriotism, I will try and respect your voice for change. It’s not complicated…allowing different views is how we do things in America.