Sigh. To those Americans who feel that football players who kneel during the National Anthem disrespect the troops or the country or the flag, you are hopelessly confused, and that’s understandable. When you’ve been made to focus so much–almost exclusively, even–on the symbols that (supposedly) represent the grand ideals of America, rather than on the ideals themselves, of course you’re going to lose track of what those symbols are symbols of.
What are they symbols of again? Or are they even symbols? Are they the ideals, maybe? Remind us what our ideals were?
Just as there are symbols that (again, supposedly; I’m being generous) represent America’s ideals, there are tools, means, ways to work toward those ideals. The military is one of those tools, if you will. The military is not the ideal; the military is one of the means to an end, to the ideals.
What were those ideals again? Anyone? Anyone? Freedom and equality!
The flag is not the ideal, the National Anthem is not the ideal, the military is not the ideal. The flag and the anthem are symbols of the ideals of freedom and equality, and the military fights for the ideals of freedom and equality, if you believe the American foreign policy folks at their public word in every case, but let’s–for the sake of argument–not argue about that right now.
When Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the National Anthem instead of standing with his hand over his heart, and when the many football players do the same since then, they don’t disrespect the country, the military, the flag or a song. They are pointing out that the symbols–the flag and the song–represent ideals (freedom and equality) that don’t seem to be meant for Americans of color, and that they refuse to keep on pretending that everything is hunky dory for everyone in this country when it’s clearly not. Just as the flag and the anthem are symbols of the ideals of freedom and equality, kneeling instead of standing during the anthem is a symbolic gesture that expresses the failures to live up to those ideals.
If you want to know more about your country’s ideals of freedom and equality, let me suggest the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution.
The Declaration of Independence describes what the founders meant by freedom and by equality: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Sound familiar?
In the United States Constitution the Founding Fathers laid out how government is to be organized, and the Bill of Rights–which is the first ten amendments to the Constitution–spells out the civil liberties and rights of American citizens in relation to the government.
The First Amendment spells out the right to free speech, freedom of the press, the right to religious beliefs and practices and the right not to have any religion imposed by the government, and the right to assemble to–among other things–protest the government.
Freedom and equality. Unalienable rights. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are the American ideals that the flag, the National Anthem, the bald eagle and any other American national symbol you can think of represent. Or used to represent.
But when we have a president who exacerbates an already bad relationship between the police and people of color in this country by suggesting openly that the police use more brutality, that they revert to pre-Civil Rights tactics, the ideals of freedom and equality aren’t being respected.
When the president claims that there were also “some very fine people” among the neo-Nazis and White Supremacists marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville, when he refuses to denounce outright the violence against people of color and the mowing down of dozens of counter-protesters, he disrespects the rule of law and therefore the individual rights to life and liberty.
Colin Kaepernick and the other football players who kneel during the National Anthem at the beginning of a game call attention to this disrespect. They have every right to do so. According to the First Amendment, they have the right to free speech. When the president says that those “sons of bitches” should be fired for kneeling during the National Anthem, he is disrespecting the United States Constitution, which he swore on Lincoln’s Bible to uphold on January 20. That’s his job as president of the United States.
And everyone who roars their appreciation and agreement during Trump’s speeches, when he spews his disrespect for the rights and ideals of this country, is equally disrespectful.
And don’t give me that “they are paid millions of dollars so they should just shut up and play ball” argument. Your own income and job description aren’t stopping you from giving your opinion, so why can’t they? Because they’re there to provide you with entertainment, and they shouldn’t remind you of the fact that they are also human beings? If that bothers you, you need to stay in your man caves and stick to playing video games.