I have tried to pay as little attention to pre-football game ceremonies as I possibly can lately. The public outcry and comment about it makes my avoidance a challenge. I haven’t formally weighed in on the crisis. I don’t like rushing to judgment. I like to let things simmer and stew and to consider the various angles. Social media is good for that. I get to see what everyone thinks, whether I like it or not.
I feel compelled, for some reason, to throw my two cents into the marketplace of ideas on the subject. But first, let me summarize some of the responses I have seen on social media. If I don’t get them exactly right, I hope you will forgive me. I have tried not to pay attention after all. You can set me straight in the comments below.
Certain people have expressed some outrage and indignation over the increasingly popular practice of kneeling during the Star Spangled Banner. They say that kneeling dishonors our country. It dishonors the flag. It dishonors all of the men and women who have fallen in combat to protect the country and to protect the freedoms that we have in this country. They have a point
But, then, I wonder why we stand for the flag anyway. Why do we take off our hats and put our hands over our hearts? It is a custom for sure. It’s a show of respect and appreciation for what the flag stands for, a country that stands for freedom. But, couldn’t kneeling by a way of showing respect and appreciation? Some people kneel in prayer to God. Others stand.
Of course, the freedoms that we have in this country include the freedom to protest. Some in my social media circles have made these points. The freedom to protest is a fundamental right of expression in a free country. Men and women died to protect all the freedoms we hold dear, and those freedoms include the freedom to protest. That’s what makes this a free country. We need to protect and respect the freedom of people to protest.
One might argue that protest is the most fundamental freedom of all freedoms because it is the greatest test of a free society. If we don’t really have the freedom to protest, we don’t really have a free country. If we are free to do or say only what the majority will allow, we aren’t really free. We should celebrate protest, even if we don’t agree with the protest, because it demonstrates, more than any other expression, the freedoms we enjoy.
Of course, those freedoms we all enjoy also include the freedom to disagree, including the freedom to disagree with people who protest. Some in my social media circles have made this point. We all have the right to express our agreement or disagreement with the protests. I agree with that!
The fact that we have the ability to agree and disagree publically with each other on very controversial topics without fear of government reprisal or censorship is another example of the freedoms we have. This is something to celebrate!
Anther friend described the history of the national anthems in the United States in a Facebook post. Yes, anthems. Once upon a time the national anthem was Our Country Tis of Thee, sweet land of liberty! At another time it was America the Beautiful. The Star Spangled Banner didn’t become the national anthem until 1931 (following endorsement from Woodrow Wilson in 1916). The Navy used it before that.
My friend’s point is that the Star Spangled Banner is not that old. It isn’t sacred. It was adopted during a time when the country was at war. Adopting the Star Bangled Banner was motivated by declaring a strong military presence and has overtones of military might. It replaced far more beneficent and peaceful anthems with broader and nobler appeal. Why are we so attached to it? I see his point too.
Why do we sing a song about conquering in war as our national anthem? We aren’t North Korea! If the more peace-conscious among us would rather not sing it, what is the harm? I can sing it with patriotic gusto as my neighbor standing (or kneeling) at my side thinks more peaceful (and no less respectful or honorable) thoughts.
Then one poster unearthed the fact that the NFL, apparently, has a rule that requires the players to stand during the national anthem. Someone posted the language from the rule on Facebook. A rule is a rule. If that is what the NFL requires, then that is what NFL players have signed on for, right? (It turns out, I believe, that the NFL doesn’t actually have a rule that addresses the national anthem.)
Freedom of speech protects individuals from the oppressive hand of the government, but it doesn’t protect individuals from the rules of private organizations. Maybe it isn’t about individual patriotism, or making individual points; it’s about the rules of the National Football League, or the individual teams that pay the players’ salaries. Like it or not, they can do what they want.
Yet someone else posted on Facebook that the NFL players are not protesting the NFL when they kneel during the national anthem any more than Rosa Parks was protesting transportation when she rode in the front of the bus. This isn’t about the NFL. It’s bigger than the NFL. This is about the vestiges of racial injustice that exist within the fabric and systems of our society. I can definitely see the point when you put it that way.
Sometimes, taking a stand and speaking out is more important than the games people play. The purpose is transcendent. If the NFL doesn’t agree, the sanctions that might be handed out will underscore the transcendent purpose of the protest in a visceral, if not unjust way. Sometimes public sacrifice is the loudest protest with the greatest effect.
Still, I see other people upset about this kneeling business agree that the issue is transcendent, but in a different way. They can’t embrace the message about injustice and racism because the protest is disrespectful of the very freedoms that allow the protest in the first place. By disrespecting the flag, they are disrespecting the country, and disrespecting what the flag and this country stand for, which are the very freedoms that allow them to kneel in the first place, are kind of like cutting off their noses to spite to their faces. I can kind of see the point.
I can see something in all of it, but I can’t really embrace any of it completely because most of the rhetoric I see is unbending and unwilling to consider other points of view. This isn’t only an issue with the subject of kneeling for national anthems. The rigid, inflexible rhetoric is ubiquitous on social media. It’s also a reflection of how the news is delivered to us today, and it’s a reflection of our appetite for swallowing it and spitting out streams of our own versions of the same stuff.
So, where do I stand on kneeling? … Actually, that’s really beside the point.