It seems the commotion has died down some. At the game this past Sunday, no one took a knee and I heard very little complaining about our latest ‘crisis’. I saw a few t-shirts with “I Stand for the Anthem” but that was it. It’s been a few weeks since NFL players started to engage in civil protest on the field. Time for some reflection.
I was in the stands (see arrow above) for that first week when players took a knee. And I yelled “booo” just before the anthem started. Then I sang out loud with my hand over my heart, just like I always do. We frequently tap someone on the shoulder, “hat,” reminding them to show respect. That’s what you do.
I don’t think you should protest during the National Anthem. I don’t think you should desecrate the flag. There are certain symbols of national pride that you don’t mess with. But I would defend anyone’s peaceful demonstration against these symbols, should they decide it was necessary, and the government tried to take that right away. That’s not what this country is about. Freedom of speech and expression is what we are. It’s what makes this country awesome. It’s why we engage in civil debate.
I don’t believe that a conscientious protest disrespects service members, first responders or anyone. Exercising your individual rights guaranteed by the Constitution, upheld by governments and defended by our military, is the single greatest thing you can do to show respect for people that died for that right. Imagine fighting for something that no one cared about. I care about freedom. I don’t take it for granted. It is important to remember that even as you protest, we all recognize how profound the struggle to maintain your ability to lodge that protest.
But in that same thread, I can also exercise my right to criticize a protester. Hence my boo-ing. Personally, I think a better way would be to do it like Dallas did that first week: The whole team, even the owner, came down on the field to take a knee right before the Anthem, and then stood for its singing. That was profound. That was a demonstration of protest. I thought it was pretty awesome.
Expressing concern and raising awareness about police brutality and the disproportionate arrest rates for black men is noble. It absolutely should be done. Professional athletes have been blessed with a talent that allows them to be celebrities and heroes. They have huge followings. Leveraging that star-power to communicate to an audience is admirable. I wish more would do it. I wish they would also express concern about their peers when they abuse women, or general disrespect of women in language and action. Imagine if they also praised the responsibility of actively fathering children and being part of a child’s life. Or vigilant use of birth control. Or encouraged kids to try hard in school. There are myriad issues to protest and raise awareness with your soapbox. Do more than one.
I would encourage players to not just make a silent show of solidarity with something as trivial as taking a knee. Stand up and speak. Get out and talk to kids and men and associations. You have a voice and if you believe in something then you owe it to your audience to talk about it and be vocal. Show your following that while actions speak louder than words, it is the actual words that convey meaning. Take ownership of what you want to say, and say it. Get off your knee, stand tall and proud, and then shout it to the world. We are listening.