Enough already with the “kneeling-during-the-anthem-is-unpatriotic” narrative. That narrative doesn’t inform the conversation about the action all Americans must take to live up to the spirit of the national anthem and the allegiance pledged to the American flag. Truth, understanding and growth get lost when Americans talk past each other and not truly address the core principles outlined in these national treasures.
The national anthem speaks, not just of a flag streaming during a raging battle, but about who we become on the other side of that conflict. To focus only on the veterans, on loss of life, on victory or on defeat misses the full brilliance of The Star-Spangled Banner. On average, Americans barely know a quarter of the anthem’s lyrics and most don’t realize that we sing only one verse of the national anthem. Likewise, the Pledge of Allegiance offers hope and promise of a nation that is not divided, ensuring liberty and justice to all. That pledge also speaks of who we become on the other side of the pledge. A failure to build an environment where everyone is guaranteed even the pursuit of liberty and justice is what becomes disrespectful and lacking in patriotism.
Americans choose to divide the country when, instead of speaking out about the nation’s failure to deliver on the promise of liberty and justice, they’d choose the more salacious narrative – attacking the very Americans that have been denied the liberty and justice held so dear by those of privilege. Is that not a disrespectful and unpatriotic display? When did America become so fragile? Honest, open discussion just doesn’t seem important anymore. Americans are comfortable building little enclaves of people they believe are like-minded and then sit quietly and watch every conversation become divisive. Americans rarely engage in honest conversations even with the people in those little bubbles. Americans are more detached than ever before.
It comes as no surprise that an answer, not spin or ideology, is rarely at hand when race in America is the topic. Arguing that the protest started by Colin Kaepernick last year during the performance of the national anthem is unpatriotic or disrespectful to veterans when you’re not willing to engage in a conversation about the basis of Kaepernick’s protest is disingenuous to say the least. What follows is usually a barrage of divisive statements that begins with staking out territory and ends with unproductive name calling. The conversation never gets off the ground despite tweets from the highest levels of government or displays of solidarity on both sides of the ideological territory so vehemently staked out.
Ask those touting the banner of disrespect in this debate if Kaepernick has a valid issue to protest and the answer will likely include something close to their disagreement with the vehicle he’s employed. That, however, doesn’t answer the question. Ask them what their views are on the inequality and injustices that Kaepernick began protesting more than a year ago and the response is usually about Kaepernick – whether he his upbringing justifies him having an agenda, his disrespect for the flag, veterans and the country. Ask that person what he or she has done to address the inequality and injustices at the center of this peaceful protest and they will deflect, this time probably in support of the President’s statements. Ask them what action they would recommend if given the opportunity to advise Kaepernick or those peacefully protesting alongside him and, once again, you will get deflection. This time illuminating the fact that Kaepernick’s disrespect has cost him his job – which, incidentally, rubber stamps the theory that Kaepernick’s inability to get a contract is appropriate action by the NFL. That deflection has more to do with making a statement about racial inequality and racial injustice than it has to do with his ability as an athlete. In the end, the very people who continue to point the discussion toward Kaepernick, the flag, the anthem, veterans, disrespect for America and the President’s statements about the players and what owners should do simply don’t want to engage in a conversation about the real issue – racial inequality and injustice.
What America is left with at the end of week three this season is this: not one of the owners or coaches that knelt or stood in solidarity against the President’s statements about the NFL and its players has offered Kaepernick a contract. It is certainly reasonable to draw a direct link between Kaepernick’s protest and the NFL’s seemingly unequivocal conclusion that every quarterback currently under contract in the NFL is better than Kaepernick. It is also reasonable to draw a link between that swath of people draping themselves in the flag as though they, and they alone, have a monopoly on the principles it stands for and their willingness to avoid having the conversation about the inequality and injustice that is at the center of the Kaepernick’s protest.
Let’s ponder two questions. Should Americans suffer penalty not codified in law for not standing during a performance of the national anthem? In a 1943 U.S. Supreme Court decision, West Virginia v. Barnette, Justice Robert Jackson wrote: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.” That decision made clear that an American cannot be required to recite the pledge of allegiance or any specific part of it. Is this decision applicable to the anthem?
In the end, every American has an obligation to throw a penalty flag when those in that huddle they call home, school, work, church or neighborhood refuse to give them the opportunity to have all voices inform their discussions about liberty and justice in an indivisible America. That’s what makes America great. Let’s make this our opening kickoff . . .
Are you ready for some football?