Opinion writer

The National Football League should be ashamed of itself. It’s bad enough that requiring football players and personnel to “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem” is a major capitulation to the moral vacuum that is President Trump. But the new rule makes a mockery of the flag and anthem that officials believe they are protecting, not to mention the First Amendment right to free speech and to protest.

The best idea I’ve heard that would allow players and other NFL employees to protest without violating the edict came from Steven Vale, a reader from Los Angeles. Wear the flag upside down. It is a sign of distress sanctioned by 4 U.S. Code § 8.

(a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

“This would be a way to express the concern that people have with what is happening in the country,” Vale explained in his voicemail message. This would also give them the “ability to express themselves without it being able to be called disrespectful.” Such a display also would not be in violation of the NFL’s ridiculous flag rules. Although, I doubt it would silence Trump, who said those who opt to stay in the locker room “shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” All hail the bar-stool president.


Then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump embraces the United States flag during a campaign rally at the Tampa Convention Center on June 11, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. (Gerardo Mora/Getty Images)

The NFL will fine flag-rule violators. Christopher Johnson, co-owner of the New York Jets with his brother Woody, who was appointed ambassador to the United Kingdom, announced he would pay the fine or of his own pocket. “If somebody [on the Jets] takes a knee, that fine will be borne by the organization, by me, not the players,” he said. “I never want to put restrictions on the speech of our players.”

If only Johnson’s high-mindedness would lead him to sign Colin Kaepernick, the man whose public protest earned the ire of the president who forced the NFL to implement its asinine anthem rule. He has more integrity and more commitment to the ideals the flag represents than Trump could ever have — not that the president is constitutionally capable of having either.

The story of the NFL’s capitulation goes back to July 2016. The police-involved killing of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., on July 5, and of Philando Castile in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., the next day inspired Kaepernick’s public protest. At first, it was confined to his Instagram feed. But by the next month, Kaepernick, then the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, took his silent protest to the gridiron by remaining seated on the bench during the national anthem.


Then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, left, and safety Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem on Oct. 2, 2016. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in an interview with NFL Media. “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.” On Aug. 28, 2016, he expanded on the rationale of his protest.

I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.

This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people that don’t have a voice, people that don’t have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and effect change. So I’m in the position where I can do that and I’m going to do that for people that can’t.

It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country. If we have these real conversations that are uncomfortable for a lot of people. If we have these conversations, there’s a better understanding of where both sides are coming from.

I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos, I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.

Kaepernick’s seated protest rankled Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret who briefly played pro for the Seattle Seahawks. He wrote an op-ed for Army Times that caught Kaepernick’s eye. It was at a meeting between the two men on Sept. 1, 2016, where the idea of kneeling during the anthem was born. “We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates,” Boyer said on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.” “Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect. When we’re on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security.”


Demonstrators block an intersection as they occupy streets on Oct. 9, 2014, in St Louis, Mo., to protest the killing of 18-year-old Vonderrit Myers Jr. by an off -duty St. Louis police officer. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

All this detail is important because it has gotten lost in the insane debate encouraged by the reprehensible attacks by the president. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” Trump told a braying crowd in Huntsville, Ala., on Sept. 22, 2017, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’” Kaepernick has not worked since the 2016 season. Eric Reid, who protested with Kaepernick remains unsigned by a team.

Pity that Trump couldn’t care less about actual displays of disrespect for the red, white and blue. “The flag should never be used as wearing apparel,” according to part (d) of 4 U.S. Code § 8. Yet nary a peep was heard when “Duck Dynasty” star Willie Robertson sported a flag bandana as he delivered a speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention.

“No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume,” according to part (j) of 4 U.S. Code § 8. Tomi Lahren violated this with a garish Halloween costume in 2017. There was backlash over this, not that the attention-seeking conservative cared. She donned a star-spangled jacket during one of her Facebook rants after the school shooting in Santa Fe, Tex., on May 18. By Trump’s standard, that should be considered appalling. Again, not a word.


Television personality and CEO of Duck Commander, Willie Robertson speaks on the first day of the Republican National Convention on July 18, 2016, in Cleveland. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

All of this is galling, a word that doesn’t even capture my disgust with Trump, his supporters and the NFL over respect for the flag. Kaepernick used his platform to shine a light on real lives lost. To focus attention on fellow Americans living in fear of the people sworn to serve and protect them and the desperate need for criminal-justice reform. Instead of taking his concern to heart, the troika continually shows it couldn’t care less. For a league that is almost 70 percent African American the new rules are a shameful way for the NFL to treat its players.

Kaepernick and the other players who took a knee strongly believe that African Americans are in “dire distress” because of the “extreme danger to life” they face. That’s why the next time players hit the field, they should wear a patch of the flag with the field of blue displayed down. Given the state of the presidency, the danger faced by African Americans and Trump’s indifference and open hostility, it would be more than respectful. It would be appropriate.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj
Subscribe to Cape Up, Jonathan Capehart’s weekly podcast