Monday, August 29, 2016

Our National Anthem

The controversy du jour is whether or not a football player has the right to not stand as The Star Spangled Banner is played before a pre-season football game. As you can imagine, the media, social or otherwise has gone all aflutter over the matter of San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to literally sit out the anthem as it played before his team's game last Friday against the Green Bay Packers. Here's Kaepernick's explanation:
I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.
Kaepernick here is speaking of the recent publicity surrounding black men being killed by police officers, and of his support for the "Black Lives Matter" movement.

His critics claim that as a privileged highly paid athlete, Kaepernick should shut up, mind his Ps an Qs, and just be grateful for his good fortune to live in a country that allows him to make several million dollars per year to play a game. The flag and the anthem they feel, is a symbol of the men and women who have served this country in the armed forces. Showing disrespect for those symbols they feel, is tantamount to showing disrespect for our servicemen and women.

Quite honestly I haven't had the chance to hear the opinions of people who support Kaepernick's statement, but I can imagine they are saying that he has every right to protest a situation that he feels is unjust. By making such a controversial statement so publicly, Kaepernick they feel is doing a great service to the oppressed people of this country.

In supporting their quarterback, Kaepernick's team, the 49ers essentially said that by refusing to stand for the anthem, Kaepernick is actually doing more to support the ideals our flag and our country stand for, than the people who are trying to vilify him.
The National Anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony... It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.
I agree with them. Similar to the issue of making an amendment to the constitution that bans the burning of the flag, the fuss over standing for the national anthem is quite ironic. What this country stands for more than anything else is liberty, and what could be a greater expression of liberty and freedom than allowing people to take an unpopular stand, or in this case, an unpopular sit?

As for the anthem at sporting events, I myself stand, doff my cap if I'm wearing one, and even place it over my heart if the spirit so moves. I do so out of respect for the hard working people of this country, both in the military and not. I do so out of respect for the other team and their fans showing solidarity with them as fellow citizens of my country. And if I am at an international event standing for the national anthem of another country, I do so out of respect and solidarity with the people of that country and the fact that we are all citizens of this planet.

I say this because something the radio guy said this morning struck a nerve. Talking indignantly about the Kaepernick kerfuffle, he brought up standing for the anthem at "sporting events like (Chicago) Blackhawks games." Now I'm as big a Blackhawk fan as the next guy, but I do feel a little uncomfortable about their approach to the anthem. Several years ago at Hawks games at the old Chicago Stadium, some fans began spontaneously cheering during the anthem. What started as a bunch of drunken rowdy fans cheering on their team during what was supposed to be a solemn moment, grew and grew until it became a cherished tradition. Nowadays everyone at the United Center is on their feet screaming their lungs out to the point where it is impossible to hear the anthem. Everyone talks about the "electric atmosphere during the anthem at the UC during Hawks games." How this translates to respect for the anthem, the flag or the country, I have no idea. This tradition has spilled over to other NHL cities where Blackhawk fans hoot and holler during the anthem while the fans of the hometown team remain silent. Clearly this boorish behavior is more directed at supporting a team than a country.

Yes sports fans, I detect no small amount of hypocrisy out there when it comes to respect for the flag and the anthem.

For the record, while I appreciate Kaepernick's concern for those less fortunate than himself, I don't agree with the histrionics in his statement, which oversimplify the issue of killings at the hands of police to an almost laughable degree. I also believe that sitting out the Star Spangled Banner is nothing but an empty and misguided symbol in itself.

Like it or not, symbols do matter and even though I don't believe that his actions dishonor our servicemen and women, many people in this country do, even many of the people he claims to support. Colin Kaepernick has every right to not stand for our national anthem. What that means is this: he should not under any circumstances be arrested for making his statement, as that would be a direct violation of the First Amendment of our Constitution.

On the other hand it does not mean that by making his statement, he should be exempt from criticism or from sanctions placed upon him by his employers, the 49ers and the NFL, should they chose to do so. As an employee and public representative of those organizations, he is responsible for following their rules and mandates. If he fails to do so, he bears the responsibility for any consequences brought upon himself. Kaepernick seems prepared for that possibility:

If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

My guess is the bottom line for those two organizations is money rather than liberty, and there is a very good chance that both the league and the team will at some point buckle under public pressure to sanction Kaepernick for his actions.

Then we'll see if Kaepernick is willing to put his money where his mouth is. If he is, then all power to him. If not, then he can be dismissed as just another publicity seeking yahoo.

We'll just have to wait and see who blinks first.   

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