Whether or not you agree with NFL players and team owners who choose to kneel in solidarity or be entirely absent during the National Anthem played prior to games is entirely beside the point.
There’s a problem of perspective dissonance that can never be remedied within this issue. A middle-class, 60-year-old white man whose father died fighting in World War II will never be able to understand what life is truly like for an impoverished, 23-year-old African American man whose brother was killed by excessive force from a police officer – and vice versa. These are irrevocably different worlds leading to completely different mindsets.
Some will find the players’ decisions selfish, self-aggrandizing and pointless – just play the damn game that you’ve been blessed and privileged enough to profit from. How dare you disrespect the country that has given you so much?
Others will cheer the players for their bravery to face such criticism and stand up for what they believe in – that America’s blessings have not been equitably distributed to all of its inhabitants, and that major areas of concern and progress have yet to be accomplished.
Some find the outlet for protest appalling. How can these players inject politics into Sunday football? Sunday football is about an escape from politics. Find another way to get this point across.
Others will say that the outlet is exactly the time and place for such a demonstration, since it will be witnessed by millions – many thousands of who may otherwise never be faced with such an uncomfortable conversation prompt as they navigate life in a comfortable bubble of likeminded peers.
However where you stand on that side of the line, again, really doesn’t matter. All that matters, all that actually determines whether or not you are truly a “good” American, is whether or not you believe the players have the right to protest in the first place.
The argument is most often made that many millions of brave Americans have died since the country’s violent beginnings in order for us to live free as we do today. This is absolutely true, and we all owe a sizable debt of gratitude to those humans, beyond posting Facebook statuses on Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day, for the privileges that we do enjoy – like watching or even playing football on Sundays.
However those who died fighting didn’t die to protect just one set of beliefs. They died to protect all of them. They died to protect those who wave the flag proudly and they fought and died for the rights of people who burn the flag, and despise America for everything it stands for, too.
You do not live in the America that those soldiers died to protect if you believe it is okay to silence all the points of view you don’t like. You do not get to arbitrarily decide what actions constitute allowable, American behavior. Period.
To hear a poll announced on the Tuesday nightly news proclaiming that some 58 percent of Americans felt that players should be FORCED to stand during the National Anthem is a terrifying prospect – one that shows just how few people truly understand what real freedom means, and how in jeopardy we are of sliding in a direction where freedom no longer means what it was intended to mean.
Before President Trump played the nationalistic patriotism card in front of an Alabama crowd last week – really, the only card he has left in his dismantled deck of broken promises and transparent lies – only a handful of players participated in the National Anthem protests. After Trump called for the firing of the “sons of bitches” who chose to exercise their Constitutionally-protected rights to protest, three full teams and a handful of owners knelt during or skipped out of the anthem entirely. Does this not speak for itself?
If anyone remains in the dark on which behavior is truly “un-American” – invoking blind patriotism to sew division amongst people as if it were a game, or peacefully drawing attention to areas of injustice and inequality – then allow four-star general and former CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden to clue you in.
“As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight,” he writes in an op-ed to The Hill. “It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.”