Over the course of the last 12-16 months there has been a fair amount of discussion about a specific form of protest that some – including President Donald Trump – view as disrespect to “Country, Flag and National Anthem.”
Colin Kaepernick, the former Quarterback for the San Fancisco 49ers, began the string of protests – which have seen athletes sitting or kneeling during the pre-game rendition of the national anthem – last Summer when he refused to stand for the anthem during a pre-season game. When asked about his decision to not stand, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses… 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.”
The NFL reported, Kaepernick joins other athletes taking a stand for civil rights “like the NBA’s Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and several WNBA players in using their platform and status to raise awareness to issues affecting minorities in the U.S.”
Since then hundreds of other athletes from high school to the pros have taken part in the protests meant to end police brutality and racial inequality.
While the protests have taken place during the national anthem, they are not protests of the anthem; and claims that the protests are protests of “Country, Flag and National Anthem” show the tone-deafness of those making the claims. Some opposed to the protests have even tried claiming the players, and coaches in a few cases, have violated NFL rules by not standing during the anthem.
As a matter of fact, the NFL has no such rule. The Game Operations Manual however does, according to an NFL spokesperson, state: “The National Anthem must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.” Adding that “During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking.” (emphasis added)
Neither the NFL Rules nor the Game Operations Manual says players must stand during the national anthem, and the NFL puts the same importance on players “hold[ing] helmets in their left hand” as they do on standing: it’s just a suggestion.
It should also be noted that the pregame protests have been respectful to those wishing to celebrate “Country, Flag and National Anthem;” however those who are livid at the thought of someone not being respectful in the manner they believe respect should be shown, are essentially saying: “Stand up, shut up, do as you’re told, and if you want to protest, do it some other time and in a place where no one can see you… because freedom!”
That’s not how freedom works. The freedom of speech also includes the freedom from speech, and there are times when people are going to say things that are not popular. The uber-patriots who wish to stifle speech the simply don’t like should heed the advice of Tyrion Lannister: “When you tear out a man’s tongue, you are not proving him a liar, you’re only telling the world that you fear what he might say.”