I’ve read about people boycotting the NFL because the players were kneeling for the anthem, and other such drama still surrounding these anthem protests. So, somehow, this protest on the field has spurred a protest of its own. I’m so dang tired of hearing everybody be so quick to pick a fight before they can be bothered to listen to the problem or even think for a solution. So, consider this my protest to the protests, of those protests. Let’s get a few things straight, first, and then, maybe we can move on to ending things like institutional racism and racism, itself.
At a Glance
When I first look at a situation, where maybe I don’t understand the bigger picture right away, I examine what’s in front of me, inspect it, and then ask myself questions. What is the harm being caused here? Meaning, in the grand scheme of things, what are these actions going to cost society if we allow them to continue? I try to look at both sides as if they were in headlines and weigh the situation on its face, take a broad view, before delving into all the details and emotions involved.
Here’s what I’m coming up with- what sounds more likely to pose a threat to the nation: the nation’s top athletes kneeling for the anthem to protest racial injustice in the country or the continued deaths of black people by police without due process, with little to no consequence?
Juxtapose those two ideas real quick and tell me you wouldn’t use any influence you had to appeal to our nation, too.
I can remember all the noise I heard about how the NFL anthem protests were attacking family values and American values. After thinking this through, I’m here to say, if one truly feels like there’s an assault on American values, I think they are entirely right, but it’s not because of the athletes protesting in the NFL, or the people taking to the streets.
Here are a few things to consider about the NFL protests, and protests, in general.
Breaking the Tradition
What Am I Seeing?
Standing and singing in unison is something you really must feel to do it honestly; and so, too, is abstaining, in my opinion.
Granted, it’s not what we expect to see. And probably not what we like to see, but I ask, what if it’s not about us, at all? I think these gentlemen have something to say. And they’re going against the grain to say it, so that catches my attention.
The answer for me is easy. When I hear the song, I stand tall (or as tall as five-foot-two gets), I stop what I’m doing, face the flag, connect my hand to my heart, and let it sing, or at least I’ll hum the melody to myself. (I don’t do crowds.) That is and always will be it for me. I love my country, and so I choose to honor it when we sing to the flag. I love to sing, anyway and so it’s an easy tradition for me to follow. Rockets’ red glare, standing ovations, crescendos… These moments are enough to give me goosebumps and make me want to hug the whole world. All that belongingness… wrapped up in a song. And for that moment, under that flag, we are One. One nation. Under God. Indivisible. With Liberty and Justice for all. Wow.
So, when I see people kneel, it makes me sad that we are not a country everyone wants to stand for. Who, what, and why that is reserved for further examination in the paragraphs to follow, it makes me sad. And I, being a born peacekeeper, want to know why, so we can fix it.
So, I ask myself. “Over the land of the free, the home of the brave…” If I didn’t see it that way- my people, free; my country, brave — would I still sing it? And if I didn’t, would people look at me funny? Would they call me Unamerican?
We see you. We’re listening.
When the players kneel during the anthem, this is what I think (An Exercise in Empathy): What If…
First off- Hey, Egomaniac, maybe, it’s not about you! (speaking to myself, of course)
These are American traditions, and they will probably be penalized for opposing them in public, and yet they still do it. When a person acts in a manner seemingly against their interests, I have to ask myself why. What are they trying to say? And, who are they talking to?
Maybe, it’s not about me or my flag, at all. Maybe, what we’re witnessing is between them and their flag. Maybe they’re not standing for their anthem. Maybe they’re sending a message to their government, to their country.
Sometimes, we just do something because we just can’t bear to do the alternative. What if, they just don’t feel the whole “this land is your land, this land is my land” business? What if, singing the anthem, to them, would feel like a bigger act of betrayal?
What if, they are not opposing your right to celebrate your flag? Rather, what if they are opposing the false image of glorifying ourselves as a united nation, when it seems the consensus is fine with black people being picked off and shot down without recourse or justice, by the very people sworn to uphold it?
What if you lived in a country, your country, that promised you a fighting chance, but is fine with someone else holding the cards of how freely you get to live that life, or if you get to live it at all? Someone else deciding if you deserve life, liberty, or happiness? Someone else assuming they can take it all from you? Without reason. Then, that “Someone” not being a person that can die, but an idea that lives and stays as long as it has meager scraps of hatred to feed on. And one thing you can count on about people, there will always be hatred.
So, perhaps, what they’re protesting is the uneven applicability of these American ideals and the uneven access to the American dream by certain people?
Yes, by all appearances, these athletes have “made it” and succeeded, so what have they to kneel for? Unless… they are using their platform to speak out for others who cannot. Think about the man. We expect them to stand at attention and sing a happy song before they give their physical all to a game before the very same nation. They sacrifice their bodies for the competition and our American entertainment, and they’re expected to perform their utmost, without question or fail; yet we want to deny them this thing, this freedom of speech… Instead, we judge them and call them names.
Taking the Knee (Symbolism)
It’s an act that’s been used for ages, with many meanings and applications. What do we know about taking a knee?
- In its most immediate setting, in football, taking a knee stops the play, stops the action.
- In peewee football, we teach the kids to kneel when someone is hurt on the field.
- Also, a man on his knee in a traditional marriage proposal shows vulnerability, submission to his partner.
- In a religious setting, people kneeling in prayer shows submission, pays respect
- Could also mean, “I’m tying my shoe,” or “Screw you guys. I’m not standing up for your song.”
Any of these is allowable by the US constitution.
It’s also taken on a meaning as a form of protest, which is afforded to us by the 1st Amendment.
“But they’re disrespecting the flag…”
When they take a knee, an act symbolic, in itself; I don’t think they’re disrespecting the flag. I think they are speaking its language.
It’s not against any rules, per se, so why does it bother us so much? I think it would be a greater disrespect to the flag to stand and sing, but not embody the American spirit outside of that moment or stand and sing if they feel like they’re perpetuating a lie.
They’re not waging war on American values. They are just not standing and singing a unity song when they feel like it’s incongruent with real life. I think they’re just not standing for a symbol that isn’t standing for them – a symbol that promises people a fair chance but still flies high while they’re shot down, snuffed out in the streets, and slain in their beds, with little to no consequence.
Are you listening, yet?
Our Reaction is Our Power
It’s a quiet message, but it speaks volumes. And you know what else speaks volumes, how we are responding to it.
All they are doing is taking an action for something they believe in, something they find to be unfair. I think now it’s on us to decide what to do with it. We decide what this will be in the end. The reaction to a protest could define it. As in, are we going to sing louder, over these fellow Americans, drown out their message? Or stop and listen? What’s the right thing to do here?
What if helping a man off his knees is more a measure of our patriotism than to stand and call ourselves patriots? Why wouldn’t we first, try to behave like Americans?
To be called “unamerican”
These athletes are Americans. Raised in American schools. In American homes. Playing America’s favorite game. For American fans. Chasing the American dream. Our very nation was born from rebellion and industry. So far, these athletes embody everything about the American spirit.
To be called, “Sons of B*****s”
Well, one thing is certain. They are the sons. They are the sons of people who loved them and supported them and their dreams a long way to the NFL. They are sons of a nation. A nation that tells them that their best shot at success is playing sports, and then, when they have beat all the competition, reached the pinnacle of their athleticism and the highest achieving level in the nation, and happen to have something to say, they are hushed, insulted, and told to stick to football. They are also the sons of a generation who had to fight for their liberties, and have probably taught them, if you feel like you have to do it, do it peacefully.
The Flag (Symbolism)
The flag is a symbol, which means its significance is equal to the meaning we assign it. First and foremost, it represents our country. It represents not just the physical United States, but also the people and the ways we are connected. It represents the struggles we’ve endured, our victories, and our sacrifices made for our country. That’s why we honor it, why we have such a crush on our flag – because of everything it represents to us and everything it’s been through… because it represents everything that we have been through.
When the athletes sit or kneel during the national anthem and presentation of the flag, I don’t think they’re denying all these things. I think they’re just not singing it a love song when they feel like they’ve been uninvited to the relationship.
We forget. That’s not just your flag. That’s not just my flag. That’s their flag, too. The flag is supposed to cover all her people. And if ever its promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness do not reach to cover all her people, it should be made right; right? That’s the American promise, isn’t it? Isn’t that the contract?
“But they’re disrespecting the veterans…”
I don’t think they are disrespecting the veterans. I think they are calling upon the nation those veterans sacrificed it all for, to hear their case.
Their world is crumbling. Their sons are discounted. They are hunted in their own country. And they have nowhere to run. Their soldiers, like your soldiers; and their sons, like your sons, fought for their country, under that same flag. Some died for their country. Sacrificed everything in service of their country.
I don’t like it when people pervert their sacrifice so that someone can have a symbol to beat people over the head with when they bend low and call upon the honor of that nation.
I think some people think the flag stands for the people they’ve lost, like that’s how we honor their memories and now someone is offending it? If a soldier perishes for their country, I think you honor their sacrifice by defending the country they lived defending, not the flag that covered them when they died.
That flag is a symbol of our country, our people. But some want to worship the symbol and forsake the people for which it stands. I would argue, perhaps, they do not understand the flag at all. You can’t forsake the nation, in defense of the flag. The idea itself is illogical.
I have a question. If a soldier in combat were faced with the decision to save either a man or a flag, do you think he would save the life and sacrifice the symbol? Or, do you think he would spare the flag and forsake the man? I hope he or she could save both, but if I had to choose, I think you save the man. Why? Because people matter more than things.
Let’s Be Better Than Ever
Slavery was abolished in 1865, and one hundred years later, black people were still fighting for their right to vote. We’ve been a racist country in the past. This is not an argument, it’s history. We study our history so that we don’t repeat it. By reviewing it, we can see where we stand as a society across the context of time, how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve not come. By referring to history and learning from it, we can make sure we are serving the people. The goal should not be for us to change our behaviors in the immediate and just play nice, put out the fires, and then see how we feel about it in another four years. I think the time has come to evolve as humans out of the caveman idea of racism and eradicate it from places of power, which we have yet to do. The goal should not be to make America “great” again but to make her better than ever, because it has not always been “great” for everyone and that’s what I think people are missing.