We, as Americans, seem to hold our flag in an almost sacred light, and we tend to lash out against anyone who disrespects it. Over the past few weeks, this lashing out has been targeted toward the several NFL players who have sat out the national anthem.
This wave of pushback began almost immediately after it was noticed that Colin Kaepernick did not stand for the anthem on August 26th. Two days later, Kaepernick met with the press and explained his reasons for sitting out, and identified it as an act of protest. Kaepernick sat out because he felt the country is oppressing people of color.
“That’s something that this country stands for: freedom, liberty and justice for all,” Kaepernick said, “and it’s not happening for all right now.”
When asked about what specific issues he was trying to address, Kaepernick spoke of police brutality. He mentioned the lack of training police officers have and the inadequate measures being taken to make police accountable for their actions.
Kaepernick is planning to sit until, “there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent.”
Several NFL football players have followed Kaepernick’s lead and have sat out the anthem, all for the same reason as Kaepernick.
There are actually two controversies in the the story of Kaepernick and the rest of the NFL players sitting out the anthem. The first is in the methods of Kaepernick to get his message across. The second is the problem he is addressing, police brutality.
When the players sat for the national anthem, most of those who saw it perceived it as an act of disrespect towards the American flag, and towards the military. In fact, the reasons for the protest were not really about either.
The American flag is representative of the American Republic. If you don’t believe me, look at the Pledge of Allegiance. When the players sat, they essentially said, “We are not going to stand and recognize this flag as a symbol of our country until it represents what it claims to represent: liberty and justice for all.”
The protests were never about the military. Kaepernick made the point that his great respect for the military made it even easier to sit for the anthem.
“[The soldiers] fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone,” Kaepernick said. “That’s not happening. [Soldiers] are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.”
In regards to the type of protest Kaepernick made, the problem is not with him. It is with us.
As a society, we have let the flag and national anthem become so sacred, that they hold more value than human lives. Should the national anthem and the American flag be respected? Of course. However, we cannot dismiss the issue the NFL players are attempting to address because we disagree with the method of the protests. Far too many people are focusing exclusively on the players’ “disrespect” towards the flag. If they want the players to stand for the anthem, they should address the expressed problems.
Further, there are very few types of protest that accomplish the good that Kaepernick’s protest has done. The protest was nonviolent and legal, it disrupted nothing, and it has the potential to get people to think. It has been very effective at getting the attention of those who are on the other side of this issue; the same people who seem to be rabidly patriotic usually deny or try and ignore the problem. What other forms of protest fit these same criteria? At the very least, this is a massive step up from many of the antics groups like “Black Lives Matter” take part in.
We need to have a conversation about systemic racism and police violence. Up to this point, that has not happened. If NFL players sitting out the national anthem is what it takes to have that conversation, then I support them.
Unfortunately, the issue might be deflected in the comments about the protests themselves. Should that happen, the players should unify and begin sitting out games. We Americans have determined that we belong overwhelmingly to what has been coyly termed the “Church of the NFL.” Thus, the players have incredible public clout. If they begin sitting out games until the issue is addressed, things will happen. Indeed, if the problems are not addressed, the players are morally obligated to do something of this sort. After all, if they will sit out the anthem, but not the game, then we see the depth of their commitment.
“If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from,” Kaepernick said, “and if we reach common ground, and can understand what everybody’s going through, we can really affect change, and make sure that everyone is treated equally and has the same freedom.”
These conversations need to happen. Both sides of the issue have much to offer, but until we engage in both sides of the issue, we cannot progress. I don’t agree with Kaepernick’s issues, but I support his protest.