I am a military veteran who usually stands for the national anthem and the flag, but I salute NFL players of all colors, owners and other professional athletes who join in unity to protest unfair police practices and other abuses directed at citizens of color. Our freedom to express such views in peaceful protest without fear of reprisal is what makes this country great. Those who took the knee did so not to disrespect the national anthem or the flag but to protest, in the strongest terms, a situation they deem deplorable, one that had again drawn national attention a few days ago when the Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Philando Castile during a video-taped traffic stop last year, was found not guilty of manslaughter.
An angry segment of America has expressed outrage and resentment toward the NFL protesters. Many believe they should be punished for using their first amendment right to freely express their views. The most vocal among them, U.S. President Donald Trump, went so far as to call the protesting athletes “sons of bitches” who should be fired for disrespecting the flag and the veterans who fought for our country. Strange comments indeed from someone who dodged Viet Nam military service through repeated (and questionable) deferments declaring that avoiding STDs was “his own personal Viet Nam.” More recently, the courageous and inspired leader turned a blind eye toward violent, Nazi-sympathizing protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia commenting that many ” fine people” were involved in the protest.
It isn’t the flag or the national anthem that makes this country great. Just as America is stained by the original sins of slavery and the theft of its land from native Americans, many of its treasured artifacts are also flawed. The national anthem was authored by a white supremacist, Francis Scott Key, who was a proponent of African colonization — exporting free blacks back to Africa — and an opponent of the anti-slavery movement. Let alone the fact that the third stanza of that anthem, the part that you never hear, goes like this:
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave,
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.
As Charles Blow pointed out in his great NY Times piece today, this stanza is thought by some to be an excoriation of the Colonial Marines, a mostly black unit composed primarily of runaway slaves who fought for the British during the War of 1812, on the promise of attaining their freedom. The unit humiliated Key’s own unit in battle.
To me, what makes America special, is that despite its flawed history and the lingering inequality still faced by many of its citizens, is that it is a nation where I and my family and many other families like mine have enjoyed great opportunities and a standard of living better than most other options available to us. And although there is still much work necessary to make America a land of truly equal opportunity, we enjoy the freedom to protest and advocate for the changes necessary to get there. That Colin Kaepernick and other athletes can take a knee to exercise that right or that Lebron and Steph Curry can, so eloquently, call out the president for his hypocrisy is what makes America great.