Despite the recent history-making outcry for racial justice and equality in this country, we are still going to be pelted with the argument that NFL players (or any athletes, at any level) who kneel during the national anthem are disparaging the flag and, by extension, those in the military. Notwithstanding Drew Brees’s recent U-turn on the issue, the anti-kneeling talking point – as just reasserted by the president – it isn’t going to go away because it is the easiest strategy for avoiding engagement with the actual reason why players kneel.
But rather than being anti-patriotic or disparaging of either the military or the flag, kneeling is an important and profound way to honor both.
Perhaps one of the most dramatic moments for the flag came in early 1945 when six American soldiers on the island of Iwo Jima raised it atop Mount Suribachi, signaling imminent defeat of the entrenched enemy, the ultimate victory achieved at a cost of more than 26,000 American casualties, among them more than six thousand deaths. For Americans, the photo capturing that flag-raising highlighted both a moment of triumph and a dramatic re-assertion of the core values the flag stands for.
One of those core values, of course, is freedom of speech and the right to express our beliefs in peaceful protest, especially even when that protest contradicts the accepted, comfortable wisdom of the day.
Not too long ago, I myself engaged in a small bit of civil protest. I was serving on the board of a gated community in Florida and was the lone person in the room who did not stand before a flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, a way the board had adopted to open its meetings. The charge of being un-patriotic came most loudly from another board member, an army veteran.
But why, I had to wonder? He readily acknowledged the sacrifices made by America’s military to win and protect my right to protest. But he obviously found it aggravating that I actually had the audacity to exercise this right.
I find this same type of disjointed thinking in the criticism of kneeling during the National Anthem. Rather than being any kind of insult, it is a call for major correction in our racial values and should be seen as a profound way to honor the flag, the many lives lost to protect it, and the foundational American values it represents.
I hope that when toe again meets leather that many NFL players (and footballers, along with athletes everywhere) will follow the example set by Colin Kaepernick four years ago – and that kneeling during the anthem is considered not just a part of the continuing effort to achieve racial equality, but rather the vivid expression of a foundational American right.
DON LONG, Escondido
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