ANNOYED AND PLEASED
This is a reflection on athletes not saluting the flag during the Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of their games. This is a reflection from a patriotic veteran, a retired Colonel of 32 years with a couple of trips to a middle-east war zone. This is the reflection of an American who is deeply concerned about the issues of justice in our country, the relationships between ethnic and racial groups, and the increasing public political polarization of race.
When Colin Kaepernick, of the San Francisco 49ers of the NFL, decided to protest the injustices he was seeing and hearing about in the USA he decided to do so in a very public manner. He decided to use that patriotic moment at the beginning of a football game to register his concern about injustice. His protest was not at a rally or a march over one specific instance, but a general complaint about injustice in the country. This was not a protest, as I understand it, about how he has been treated personally. The way he did it was televised and controversial and remains so even till now. Other athletes in professional sports, college sports, and even high school sports have copied his example.
Let me state quickly that no matter how I feel about his protest I absolutely believe he has the right of conscience and free speech to make it. My military service is a testament to my commitment to the Constitution of the United States which means I have to defend the rights of people with whom I might disagree as to their opinions. If I only defend those with whom I agree my commitment to free speech and the right to protest means little or nothing.
I personally felt that those athletes who took a knee at the anthem were making a mistake. From some comments I have read the idea that since there is injustice in America we must therefore protest America as a country (which is what not honoring the flag implies) has taken root among some. The logic does not follow. There certainly have been times when protesting America as a country might have been in order, especially during the time of slavery or segregation by law. One of the glories of our country has been the painful and difficult process of self-correction in such ways as the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. These were events where people were forced to pay with their blood in order to bring about change.
When I hear the anthem I don’t associate unjustified police killings with the flag. In fact if anything I associate the opportunity to change such unjust practices by protest, political action, and legal redress as being very American. There has certainly been injustice in our country, in every state, in every city. Unfortunately, in my estimation of human beings, I believe that there will always be instances of such behavior and cruelty. If the protests are to continue during the flag and anthem ceremony as long as there is injustice in the country, well, then it will continue through all our life-times.
Yet, it doesn’t matter if I think the object or the context of the protest is confused. If citizens are not breaking the law, damaging other people or their property, then they have the right to protest even if it annoys some of us. Annoying others is exactly the point so that some of us might get the message that there is something wrong in the Republic. Obviously the paying customers or viewers of such events have the right to protest back by not coming back to the games or watching it on television.
As to what these athletes are concerned about I have every sympathy and even agreement. There are things that need to be corrected when it comes to the relationships between authorities and minority communities. This is not just a matter of an administrative fix, this is a national dilemma and one that if not corrected will continue to get people killed. This is a matter of deep and pervasive attitudes revealed by fairly consistent and widespread behavior. These things are not just a one-time event but a sad historic pattern of fear, distrust, callousness, hatred, and racism. The purposeful killing of police officers because they are police officers is also part of this problem; it is an evil, horrible, and unjust response to someone’s fear and bitterness. Murder is not protest.
We live in a time when the right wing of politics has decided to take every opportunity to label and use racial protest or concern as a reverse form of racism. Since the left wing of politics has seemingly carried the torch about racial injustice the right wing has decided to trump their effort. If one brings it up, if one implies race or bigotry might be behind an action or event, then the strategy is to cry racism against the complainers. As if the mere mention of racism or ethnicity or culture was actually the cause of the problem. The message is that if it makes white people feel bad it will ignite racism in their hearts where there wasn’t any before.
That reaction will certainly take place if propagandists aid and abet the idea that anything that makes you feel guilty, confused, or defensive is just cause to label racial complaints as racism itself. This is not true, just, or logical. It is very political and very deceptive. It justifies people in their ignorance and instead of bringing people closer together in understanding it polarizes them.
So, though I think the context for the protest may be in error, I believe I have to have some tolerance for another person’s right to protest. I am not even sure what alternatives I would suggest to get the nation’s attention. I appreciate the respect shown in taking a knee and not just going about your business. I appreciate the respect of my fellow Americans to realize this is not a matter of law or of law breaking but rather a transgression against patriotism, which part of our culture has more power over us than we sometimes realize. It is not a sin against my religion, it is not blasphemy, and it is not even as egregious as burning the flag might be (which is still protected speech by the way). I am annoyed, and rather pleased to share simply by exposure or inconvenience in a very American moment of exercising one’s rights.