The consequences for having an opinion in 2018 are brutal, especially when it comes to the NFL and the National Anthem debate. If you want the athletes standing, you’re deemed a callous racist who’s dismissive of the issues the athletes protested. If you support the athletes kneeling, you’re unpatriotic and anti-military.
So divided we fall, making the National Anthem contested ground. And that’s what bothers me. The Anthem isn’t for one race or class of Americans. The land of the free and the home of the brave is a coast-to-coast deal, including all of us.
We don’t have a lot of patriotic symbols left in the country that hold much value, but the Anthem, which lasts for about 1 minute, 22 seconds, holds fast as one of the few icons that gave us permission to be patriotic.
Now, the term patriotic receives a lot of scorn today, but deep down, I think every American possesses a strand of healthy pride in the nation. The Anthem and the American flag create a moment where athletes and fans alike can rest from the political divisiveness and fury of competing worldviews.
For a minute and a half, we are clear to breathe, counting our blessings that we receive in this nation—and no matter your race or socioeconomic position, plenty of freedoms and privileges come with living in the U.S. (Refugees fleeing from wars in the Middle East wouldn’t be risking their lives daily to immigrate here if there weren’t any.)
Additionally, standing proudly for the Anthem doesn’t mean it’s demeaning or belittling the contentions, controversies, and issues of the day. It’s a moment when we distinguish ourselves as Americans, not clustered apart according to our skin colors, politics, or whatever else cleaves us from one another.
That’s why a lot of people disagree with the NFL players kneeling during the Anthem. It’s not latent racism or a hidden desire to subjugate the athletes. Rather, it’s a longing to preserve a common rallying point.
I understand that activism and protests design themselves to be provocative, but why did Colin Kaepernick in 2016 and other athletes in successive years have to make it about the Flag, specifically?
I ask this question, because I think, as this debate has smoldered for two years now, that the issues have been left to rot. Instead, it’s been about the flag and the anthem, the athletes and their jobs, about President Trump, about anything but the people these athletes were protesting for. What started as a call for reform in the areas of policing and poverty has been muffled into personal squabbles.
And who and what gets left behind? The very people these athletes were supposed to be protesting for, as well as any honest conversation about the issues at hand. Americans are already attuned to these issues. We see it in the news, read about it online, and talk about it amongst ourselves. Awareness wasn’t lacking here.
That’s why kneeling during the Anthem was so counterproductive. It appeared to be more about the spectacle, and a lot of the country doesn’t like it when the Anthem and Flag are used as a podium for activism.
Why? Because the flag is integrally tied to American values and yes, the troops. Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics as he witnessed the British bombarding Fort McHenry with mortars during the War of 1812, so it was generated amidst a time of combat.
The Anthem, then, is a musical emblem to the reality that we’ve outlasted our wars, our sins, and our tragedies—that we’ve found a way to stand united. And if there’s anything worth honoring, it’s the flag that men and women have given their blood for. That’s not chest-beating nationalism; it’s reverence for their service, and that never becomes cliché.
The NFL recently announced it’s going to enforce their policy of all players standing for the anthem. Those who don’t wish to stand can remain in the locker room. The league is a private business, so just like any other job, you can’t use company time for politics and activism. I’m staunchly pro-life, but it’s not my place to get out of my chair and kneel during a Sales & Marketing meeting to protest Roe v. Wade.
However, I’m not suggesting we don’t talk about the concerns raised by the players. There’s an opportunity to explore these questions in the public arena, but not at the stadium. Does anyone think that a football game is an optimal debate space?
Clearly not, because in the end, we’re falling divided, a union that’s not very united.
I’m not suggesting that the protesting players be completely disregarded. I may disagree with their methods, especially those of Colin Kaepernick, who wore socks to a 2016 San Francisco 49ers team practice that depicted images of pigs with police hats on their heads (this was during the season he began kneeling). That’s not someone who you want leading a movement. How is that kind of disrespect productive?
But I’m not going to malign the rest of the players who kneeled last season. Some of them have emerged from situations that were less-than-stellar and have experienced the issues they’re protesting firsthand.
I know many of the athletes are active in their communities, have set up charity funds, and have even gone on ride-alongs with local police departments,, so they’re not all the stereotype of selfish, ignorant, and entitled athletes that some fans make them out to be.
Ironically, the actions of these athletes who interact with their communities are why people stand proudly for the Anthem.
I don’t write this opinion while plugging my ears to instances where justice needs to be clarified in the eyes of our nation.
But I think there’s a better way forward than the activism we’ve seen in the NFL the past couple years. Sometimes, liberty needs a louder bell, and I hope that NFL athletes and fans alike, regardless of their stance on the Anthem debate, can preserve what’s good about America in our calls for reform and use that as a trajectory for supporting our neighbors, no matter their situation, skin pigment, or stance on politics.
We’ll flourish when we figure that one out. A tall task it may be, but if there’s anything about America, it’s that the more crippling our sins are, the more critical it is that we find redemption with one another.
Kevin Cochrane is a writer and college student. Like what you read? Follow him on Twitter @kev_cochrane, find him on Facebook, or click the follow button at the bottom of the page to get Town Crier’s latest updates. Want to read more? Visit his blog at restandrefuge.wordpress.com which offers a Christian perspective on the surrounding culture. You can contact him with comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.