Offending and Defending the NFL’s National Anthem Protest
Believe it or not, it is possible to think two things at once. This was the sentiment of ESPN commentator Will Cain last week, in reference to the near league wide National Anthem protest in the National Football League. A comment like this shouldn’t be noteworthy, but in a world of extreme opinions, proud political self-labeling, and unwavering agendas, it becomes profound.
Cain believes that you can disagree with President Trump’s comments, which called for the jobs of any player who peacefully protests the National Anthem to be vacated, and the message of the protests all the same. That’s an impressively critical take from someone who I have a lot of respect for, especially as I pursue a degree in Mass Communications. Do I agree with what he’s saying all the way? Not really. But I think it is a solid alternative to the usual narratives pumped out by the media, otherwise known as the talking points of needing to either be all for the President’s comments or the protest. You need to sway one way or the other. Otherwise, you must either be a closeted white supremacist on one end, or you’re unpatriotic on the other.
I’m torn on the subject. On one hand, my patriotism is strong. The flag means a lot to me. The United States, I believe, is the greatest country in the world. We’ve had a lot of serious issues, and I doubt I even need to get into the specifics of what those are. But not too many of the United States’ issues are really that unique. That hardly excuses anything, but let’s not act like the rest of the world is so squeaky clean. Man’s inhumanity dates back way before 1776. It goes back further than 1607 and 1492 as well.
If someone doesn’t appreciate the players sitting or kneeling for the National Anthem, I believe they have solid ground to stand on. It’s not as sturdy as it was when Colin Kaepernick was protesting alone, though. Anyone who tries to glorify Fidel Castro is playing a very risky hand. That being said, not everyone who disagrees is being irrational. The flag isn’t only a representation of the bad times in the United States. It’s also symbolic of freedoms that are far from universal, defeating evil dictatorships, and scientific innovations that have dramatically advanced the human condition.
On the other hand, I admire the peaceful protests that were so powerfully carried out by figures like Henry David Thoreau, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, and all of the people who have tried to make a difference through similar means, but can’t be found in a history book. How can I reasonably begrudge NFL players for their protest? I’m free to disagree with the stance, but the protest itself is admirable. However, I don’t think the National Anthem “protest” is really a protest at all. It is, as it’s been said over and over again by the participants, more of a demonstration of unity. Call it whatever you like, but the fact is that professional athletes were specifically called out by the one person who should be representing the flag more seriously than anyone. Nobody needs to stand for their job security being questioned.
For the record, the flag definitely has meaning. To dismiss it simply as “a piece of cloth” is to state that you have suspended your ability to think critically. Symbolic meaning and sentimental value are very real aspects of our lives, and to act like the flag of a country doesn’t carry weight is way off base. I accept that it’s within your rights to be ignorant on any front, including this one, but don’t expect too many people to appreciate it when you show it off.
So, having said all of this, what’s my official take on the National Anthem controversy? Well, I agree with some aspects of both sides. I know it’s kind of lame to take a moderate approach to anything anymore, but there’s value in multiple arguments here. I’ve always found myself thinking a lot, but rarely reaching to one end or the other to find answers. Most of the time, things get done through compromise. But I don’t endorse President Trump’s comments at all. They were way out of line, mostly due to his unprofessional use of profanity, and we’re inching closer to him cutting ties with just about every demographic in the country. This week its professional athletes, next week it’ll be someone new. Everyone can, and will, get annoyed with mindless insults being hurled at people who are exercising their undisputed rights.
Still, it would take a lot for me personally to stop standing for the National Anthem. The flag has meaning to me. The song has meaning to me. That’s just me. The United States is greater than its worst. I believe that, and I would guess that most people who haven’t been completely twisted by this awkward rut of divide we’ve been caught in probably can at least somewhat agree with me. The demonstration of kneeling was absolutely appropriate for one week, but now is the time to stand and actually work to make a difference we can see.