This is an incident that has received far too much attention. It’s a good example of social media making a mountain out of a molehill.
I didn’t grow up in a place where there were very many people who weren’t wholly patriotic, so I was in my mid thirties, living in Kentucky, a long way from where I grew up, when I first encountered individuals who deliberately chose not to stand during the national anthem. It was during a high school graduation ceremony in a packed gymnasium. The state song was played first, and the whole audience stood. That was a new experience, since I didn’t really think of “My Old Kentucky Home” as an anthem, but I stood anyway, out of respect for the fact that I was living there, and it was apparently a custom of the place. Then, the band played the national anthem, and in front of me, about ten rows, a group of people sat down. In a couple of other locations in the gym, the same thing occurred, out of maybe 5,000 people, there were a dozen or so who sat down after the state song was played.
At first, I thought perhaps it was because they were from a foreign country. Or that perhaps they were Jehovah’s Witnesses, though they had stood for “My Old Kentucky Home.” But a friend told me that it was pretty typical in that particular community, at gatherings like that, for people to sit down during the national anthem. It was a protest, I was told, of perceived unfairness by the culture at large, the government in general, and in some cases, the local government and local culture.
OK. I get that. It’s not something I would choose to do. My way of protesting is different. I write, sometimes in a journal like this, sometimes in letters to people I think can make a difference. I speak up. But I’m not inclined to make a public protest out of something I feel is an act of respect, and isn’t connected with my grievance.
Be that as it may, free speech is a constitutionally guaranteed right, and it ranks right up there with the right to bear arms, which might help you think about this in correct terms and context. And the fact of the matter is that Colin Kaepernick has the right to remain seated during the national anthem, as a protest against whatever he chooses for it to be. As deplorable as you might think that act is, in and of itself, it’s no worse, in my opinion, than donning a white robe, and a white, peaked cap and covering your face with a sheet before you light a cross on fire. It’s his constitutional right. It’s his chosen way of making a statement.
I’m not going to comment on what his statement is about. For one thing, all I know about it is what I’ve seen on social media, and I’m absolutely sure that’s distorted, especially when it comes to his reasons and motives for doing what he did, and when it comes to the issue that prompted his protest in the first place. I won’t contribute to either fanning the flames, or to speculation that distorts and twists the truth completely out of shape. Social media lets you lie without being accountable, and there’s already way too much of that on Facebook.
Other people are, of course, entitled to their opinion. They can sit in the stands at football games and say what they think, or behave anyway they choose within the limits of the law. And a lot of them probably will, which could be intimidating for someone trying to focus on playing a football game. Noting that there are a significant number of people who support Kaepernick, if the argument gets carried into the stadium, seeing how emotional people have been when it comes to this issue, that could spell difficulties for the NFL at Forty Niners games. Is that his fault? I don’t think so. I’ll say it again. This is America, and this is a protected, individual, constitutional right.
I’ll always stand when the national anthem is played. That’s the message I want to send. But the very fact that I can choose to do this is at the crux of the matter for Colin Kaepernick, and for anyone else who wants to exercise their right to free speech.