I would just as soon watch paint dry as view professional sports on television.
So, Colin Kaepernick and his cohort weren’t really on my radar screen until the president jumped into the fray last week in Alabama with his “son of a bitch” comment.
With that, the nation perked up.
Kaepernick and other players are protesting racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem. This act has been interpreted as being an offense to the flag and to the military. There is scant evidence of the former and absolutely none of the latter. Since this is all about symbolism, the apparent outrage regarding kneeling is especially curious as kneeling is the ultimate act of submission.
Kneeling, by its nature, places the person in an inferior position, beneath or below whatever they are reflecting upon.
The D.C. Emancipation Statue is controversial as it depicts a black man in a position of homage rather than on an equal plane with Abraham Lincoln.
We kneel during religious worship to place ourselves in a position of deferential respect and awe. In this context, kneeling shows more respect than standing.
In fact, the ultimate act of disrespect, were it intended as such, would be to remain standing with one’s back to the flag, a willful act of disregard.
Others have said that these athletes are simply exercising their rights as Americans, we would do well to trace those sentiments all the way back to the “First American,” Benjamin Franklin, who said, “Without freedom of thought there can be no such thing as wisdom and no such thing as public liberty without freedom of speech.”
Franklin linked liberty with the right to free speech. It is after all, what makes us free.
Kneeling then, is a form of free speech. In the athletes’ case, it is an expression of concern regarding racial injustice. To impute that it is a directed insult to the flag or service members is absurd and without foundation.
Finally, we Americans are highly selective in our patriotic outrage.
As a D.C. guide, I am in frequent attendance at the changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns. The ceremony often includes a laying of a wreath of flowers at the tomb and the playing of Taps. The officer leading the ceremony issues quite specific instructions about proper conduct, including placing one’s right hand over the heart.
Nevertheless, attendees routinely ignore this basic sign of respect in order to capture the moment on their phones or stare blankly, hands at their sides.
Keep in mind that this is a dedicated and sacred moment to specifically honor those killed and unidentified, and it is defiled by the compulsion to document or by simple laziness.
Now that’s disrespect, yet no criticism is ever levied.
I salute Kaepernick and his cohort for their thoughtful, directed commitment to a better America and for their courage to kneel in silent respect for all that they believe in.