Debates raged on Sunday about the decision by many NFL players to kneel for the national anthem, and the field is littered with the bodies of massacred straw men. So let’s get some of the easy stuff out of the way.
Of course the players have the right to kneel during the anthem. That is indisputable. Kneeling during the anthem is a form of political protest and I would absolutely oppose anyone who says they shouldn’t have that right. But that is not the question. The question is should they kneel.
Second, criticizing the kneelers is not the same as supporting what Trump said. I’m not going to quote the president here because this is a family friendly site, but the chief executive should not call for private businesses to fire their employees. It was wrong when Democrats went after Chick-Fil-A, it’s wrong when Trump goes after the NFL.
That being said, instead of taking the high road, many players decided to double down on a protest that disrespects America. The national anthem does not represent Trump, it represents our country. If you want to register disapproval with Trump, the national anthem is the wrong venue to do so.
Finally, some have pointed to the US flag code to obfuscate the argument by saying it’s the people who wear the flag on their clothing who are really disrespectful, not those who kneel. That would be a great gotcha moment if the debate was over adhering to a flag code most people have not heard of. But it’s not. It may be in violation of the flag code, but wearing a shirt or hat with the US flag on it is designed to show support for the flag and for America. Kneeling during the anthem does the opposite.
So let’s walk through step by step why so many people are upset over the anthem protest.
The Star Spangled Banner is not just any song. It is the US national anthem, and as such it represents America the same way the flag does. It represents not just the soldiers manning Fort McHenrey in 1814, but also the Minutemen who guarded Bunker Hill in 1775, the Union troops who repelled Pickett’s Charge in 1863, the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in 1944, and the soldiers I know who patrolled Iraqi villages. It represents the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that “all men are created equal,” and the abolitionists, suffragettes, and civil rights leaders who fought to uphold that revolutionary idea. It represents a country that, while not perfect, has done more than any other to spread the message of political and economic freedom to the world. It represents the 320+ million Americans who make up this great country.
As such, we treat the national anthem with respect. Whenever the anthem is played at any event, an announcer generally asks everyone to stand, remove any hat they may be wearing, and place their right hand over their heart. All of this is done as a sign of respect to the anthem and by extension to the country it represents.
Before the anthem is played at football games, fans are usually sitting in their seats and players are standing on the sidelines. When the anthem starts, fans stand up to show respect. For players who are already standing to kneel means they have decided to make an effort to not show respect for America. Make no mistake about it, going out of your way to avoid showing respect is a sign of disrespect.
The players who kneel are actively disrespecting our country.
For evidence of their thinking, lets go to the man who started this ordeal. When he began this protest over a year ago, Colin Kaepernick said “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” This is not a case of players simply taking advantage of the biggest stage they have to make a political point; the intentional disrespect of America is an integral part of the protest.
NFL players have plenty of opportunities to promote political causes. Their celebrity guarantees if they held a press conference or organized a rally it would get attention. Many of them are frequently interviewed for TV, radio, newspapers, and websites; they could talk about their concerns then instead of how impressive they are or the product they are paid to promote. But no. They have chosen the one moment reserved to honoring the United States.
Kneeling during the national anthem cannot be done surgically. It is not possible to only oppose what you don’t like while disrespecting a symbol of the whole nation. By kneeling during the anthem they are not just saying they don’t like racism or police brutality. What the country hears is that they don’t like America.
America is not now, was never, and will never be perfect. But we have done more good for this world than any other country. America began the modern democratic movement. America has invented products and systems that have saved tens of millions of lives and vastly improved hundreds of millions more. For close to a century, America has been the worldwide bulwark of democracy and liberty. Over the course of our history we have developed a society in which the adopted son of immigrants can found a world changing company in his garage and the black son of a single white mother can become president.
America is a country worth honoring, and we should all stand for her anthem.