The US Flag, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, and NFL Protests
And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
This article addresses the protest initiated by Colin Kaepernick sitting and later kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem at NFL games. He did so to bring attention to the racial injustices Black Americans face in America in general and regarding law enforcements and the police in particular. Others later joined him.
There are three elements of our national fabric to consider: The US Flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and the National Anthem.
The US Flag is a portrait or symbol of national identity, national loyalty, and national unity. Both the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem recognize these aspects of the US Flag. The US Flag is also a portrait or symbol of our national commitment to liberty and justice for all the nation’s citizens. To me the National Anthem is less, if at all, about such internal national commitment but more about national unity against external forces. However, the Pledge of Allegiance is clearly explicitly about such internal national commitment.
The issues surrounding protests during the National Anthem remind us that we are yet a nation in progress reaching for a more perfect union.
Protests During National Anthem is Nothing New
Protests during National Anthem by Black Americans have happened many times. Examples include Tommie Smith and John Carlos during the 1968 Olympics (Black Power Salute), Vince Matthews and Wayne Collett during 1972 Olympics (Didn’t face Flag), Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf (formerly Chris Jackson) of the Denver Nuggets during games (Didn’t Stand; suspended by NBA in March 1996).
Smith, Carlos, Matthews, Collett, and Abdul-Rauf were punished for their violations of commonly understood expectations. When you stand up for what you believe you must also be willing to take the punishment whether or not that punishment is right or wrong. If the punishment is wrong you of course have a legitimate reason to fight it.
Constitutional Right to Free Speech and Peaceable Protest
Our Constitution gives us the right to peacefully and reasonably protest to include freedom of speech. Protest is one constitutional mechanism to move us forward into a more perfect union. This means the government is not to stop such protests and speech. It also means the government is to protect such protests and speech against those who would attempt to stop such protest and speech.
Yet, freedom of speech and protests are limited rights and generally apply to interaction with governments. Private entities such as businesses and schools may curtail and otherwise control speech and protest in and on their facilities. Employers may also curtail and otherwise control speech and protest while persons are on the job; this includes government employers and the military. Yet, private entities and governments should make their general position on the matter clear.
Governments should allow peaceful protests to occur. However, governments may and indeed should ensure that protesters and counter-protesters remain physically apart in time and/or place. This means governments may and should require counter-protesters not to interrupt and otherwise impede protesters and/or present opportunity for violence to occur. If counter-protesters interrupt and/or otherwise impede protests the government should ensure counter-protesters are physically removed if such counter-protesters refuse to cease such behavior. Common sense and fairness to protesters should prevail. The provisions of this paragraph apply even if government officials disagree with protesters; the very definition/nature of protest against the government means such disagreement would most likely be the case.
Colin Kaepernick and NFL Players Right to Protest During National Anthem
By kneeling during the National Anthem, Colin Kaepernick and others exercise their constitutionally legal right to choose when and where and how to peacefully and reasonably protest in the absence of clear NFL rules forbidding such protest. Of course in doing so they risk subjective consequences which they may not desire to occur.
On August 26, 2016 Colin sat during a preseason game. Afterwards he said: “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.”
Personally, I think he showed immaturity in protesting such matters considering his choice of words. If he was going to so act, I think it would have been better to say something like:
I do not stand to disrespect the US Flag or country for it is my flag and it is my country. I sit during the anthem because for me it is a great time and place to draw mass attention to the nation’s oppression of 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 while questionable and seemingly unnecessary deaths are occurring due to seemingly careless, irresponsible, and reckless behavior on the part of the law enforcement community (internal staff and contractors).
Colin grew in understanding as he later decided to kneel instead of sit after he talked with Nate Boyer, a former Army Green Beret and NFL Player. It is reported that he said he later knelt instead of sitting because he wanted to show respect for former and current military personnel.
Some have said that those protesting are on the job and that the First Amendment regarding free speech and protesting do not generally apply while on the clock. That is certainly generally true. Indeed, when I was in the military, there were restrictions on what we could do while in uniform and even when out of uniform.
But Commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly said “There is no rule in the NFL saying players must stand during the national anthem.” If so, then the NFL does not have a rule that forbid such protests. The NBA seemingly does have such a rule. So until the NFL or teams establish such a rule the NFL players are free to engage in such protests and the public including fans have nothing to say about it except don’t support the team. So then clearly Colin had the right to protest as he did without being punished by the NFL if he is being blackballed as some think he is. If he had violated terms of his job contract, then some form of punishment would have been in order. But he clearly did not violate the terms of his job contract. See Washington Post article for more Goodell’s comments on the issue.
Some other football players have also kneeled at games. However, not very many have done so. It has been asked why does not all the Black football players and even White football players kneel at the football game to show their support for Colin’s action. Well it seems that either they don’t hold the same view as Colin or they are afraid they will loose their job/money.
I Would Have Chosen a Different Method, Time, and Place
Personally, I think protesting during the National Anthem is unnecessary and not the better way. But, it was and is Colin Kaepernick and others constitutional right to choose to do so since the NFL seemingly does not forbid it as their employer. Of course, when we make a stand for what we believe we must be ready to pay the consequences of confronting other imperfect humans as we all are. We must be ready to face unrighteous accusations even if we act righteously. That is what happened to Jesus so we must expect the same at times.
For me it would have been better and still would be better if they adhered to the standard expectation during the National Anthem. Now the issue has become President Trump and the National Anthem rather than the injustice issues Colin intended to raise. These are complex injustice issues that require a lot of initiative, faith, courage, integrity, and resources to resolve or at least improve. Injustice issues of this day are far more complex than injustice elements of 1950s/1960s such as separate water fountains, separate bathrooms, and hand-me-down books. Such injustice elements were visibly obvious and undeniable.
In my personal opinion it would be better if the NFL (management, owners, and players as a unit) at the very least joined together in massive street protests off the work clock. Yet, it would be even better if the NFL joined together in a media campaign to highlight injustices (legal, social, racial, economic, etc.) and solutions. It would be even better than that if the NFL visibly funded and promoted those solutions in every city and county perhaps starting with but not solely in the major cities. It would be even better if this happened with mutual agreement through joint initiatives (including funding) with the Executive Branch (President Trump and Cabinet), Congress (House and Senate), and the US Supreme Court, and related entities at all levels of government, Federal, State, and Local.
I think my approach would be more effective and less distracting from the real issues. It perhaps may be less antagonistic but not necessarily so. Of course, they still would have criticizers; but, I think they would be in a better position than they are now.
The Texarkana Area Christian Leadership Conference (www.taclc.org) my ministry held in March 2017 was a local step regarding these complex issues. More steps are in the planning stage regarding injustices to all races.
Colin’s Chosen Method Though Imperfect Has Achieved Some of His Apparent Goal
The purpose of protest is to bring attention to an issue for the purpose of inciting non-conformers to action in the form of a more engaged and serious conversation and more deliberate positive action. Well, Colin has indeed achieved that goal of a more engaged conversation; however the seriousness of the conversation at the moment is questionable.
President Trump twitter/media comments have both aided and distracted from Colin’s goal. He has aided by causing more NFL owners and players and the nation at large to respond. Yet, he has distracted by introducing more noise into the conversation. The noise is that some are making the President the issue and even the Flag/Anthem more of an issue rather than the issue being what Colin intended it to be. But again Romans 8:28 rings true.
The fact that more NFL Owners and players responded to the President shows why Colin saw the need to take some form of action. For such owners and players seem to not sufficiently see the seriousness of the issue Colin raises to adequately respond to solving his issues. Their response is about protesting the President view of the matter rather than the issues Colin raised. Indeed, I do not question Colin’s need to act; I question his method of action. Indeed, I applaud and honor him for making a sacrificial act.
Call for Boycott Against NFL for Not Hiring Kaepernick.
A group of pastors and other men are asking people of all races to boycott (“mancott”) watching NFL games in support of Colin Kaepernick due to the NFL Teams failure to hire him into a position. Apparently he chose to opt out and become a free agent rather than directly negotiate a new contract with San Francisco if they would have. Reported statements by San Francisco officials suggest they would have released him or not given him as lucrative a contract as he had any way. In any case, the video is worth watching as it is very instructive whether or not you agree with Colin or the approach of the video makers to contributing to resolving our nation’s problems. A video called BlackOut by the group may be found here.
Where Do We Go From Here
The key is whether there will be more deliberate action on the part of the President, NFL Management, Owners and Players, and others that improves matters for all Americans in general and Black Americans in particular.
It is now time or at least extremely close to time for everyone to go back standing according to convention during the National Anthem. Those protesting by kneeling and those counter-protesting kneeling should come together to more deliberately put forth plans and actions with timelines to resolve the issues Colin intended to bring attention and issues of injustice more generally.
See here where I talk about the purpose and meaning of US Flag, Pledge of Allegiance, and National Anthem in more details.
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