The question of what constitutes patriotism will receive as many answers as there are people in any given country. Where one person may express their love for their country simply by being a productive citizen and contributing to society, another might find that not to be enough, opting instead to decorate themselves and all of their possessions from top to bottom in the symbols of their nation. Some even wear this patriotism on their skin and take it to their grave with them. Regardless of how one shows their love for their country, that is decidedly their decision, and it is also their right and decision to criticize their country. This is a freedom that is held especially dear to Americans, many of whom can’t go a day without reminding others of freedom of speech while simultaneously reprimanding those whose views differ from their own. In recent weeks, the debate over patriotism and protest has dipped into the world of professional athletics, something as American as apple pie to most people, and we at The Voice would like to examine the response to this turn of events.
While American athletes have been using their status to go against social norms (Jack Johnson at the turn of the 20th century) or protest what they see as an injustice (Muhammad Ali and the Vietnam War) for the better part of the past 100 years, it has only been recently that major media outlets have turned this into a national debate. During the 2016 season, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to stage a silent, peaceful protest of police brutality and institutional racism in America by taking a during the national anthem. Since then, he has faced backlash from the NFL and from fans, who believed his protest was disrespectful to American veterans. Despite the response, Kaepernick has continued the protest into the 2017 season, and was joined by a handful of other players, all of whom, at the time, were people of color. This protest was by and large an act by a small group of people who chose to kneel in a respectful manner during the national anthem in hopes of starting a conversation. And then Donald Trump became involved.
Recently, Trump took to the stage at a rally and, with the eloquent speech of a sailor, implied that the NFL should fire those players who do not stand for the national anthem or the Pledge of Allegiance. Since this fiery outburst, whole teams have knelt or participated in some fashion in what has become the #TakeAKnee protests. The Steelers, for example, chose to stand together during the anthem, although confusion caused by Bears fans resulted in former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva appearing to stand alone, and the team has since stated that they will be on the field but will be united together in future games. Prominent player Tom Brady joined the most of the rest of the Patriots and other members of the NFL in uniting after Trump’s speech, despite being an outspoken supporter of Trump during the election. Most of the players and coaches who have taken part in these protests have done so in a peaceful, unifying manner, mostly by linking arms or holding hands and kneeling, and even those who remain standing have placed their hands on the shoulders of those on the ground in solidarity. We at The Voice applaud this act of unity in the face of divisiveness.
As many players have said, these protests are not a matter of creating division or being disrespectful. In fact, many see it as the opposite, as the coming together of people from all walks of life to support a common goal, just as football itself does. Whole teams put aside their differences in support of their fellow Americans who may not get to experience the camaraderie and equality that they experience. Most importantly, these protests are being done in a peaceful manner, and in a way that still shows the utmost respect to the Americans who have fought and died for the right to protest in this manner. None of the players have stated that they are against the military or the United States. The goal has always been to protest racism and inequality in America, something most Americans should be against.
Standing for the national anthem or saying the Pledge of Allegiance is not and never has been a requirement for American citizens. From those who are dual citizens who may not be able to pick one country to love more, to those who are religiously prohibited from pledging their loyalty to anything but their god, there are millions of Americans who cannot, for one reason or another, morally justify standing for the anthem or the pledge. In addition, those claiming that it is some time-honored tradition should remember that until 2009, the teams of the NFL did not actually take the field for the anthem. It had been a way to market the war in the Middle East by rallying the “patriotism” of the players of America’s favorite sport. This is not an old tradition being suddenly broken by “snowflakes” and millennials, and it is not anti-American any more than Rosa Parks was anti-transportation.
What should be most alarming to Americans is that Trump, by potentially inciting retaliation against these players, is breaking federal law, since the players are making a personal decision to do what they do. Along with this, we at The Voice would like to remind those who claim that the flag is being disrespected that much of the code which dictates how to respect the flag is practically torn to shreds each Fourth of July when everyone wears the flag as a cape, eats Sloppy Joes off flag-patterned plates, and takes a dip in the pool in their American flag bikinis. If one is to defend the honor of the flag, one must be well-versed in how to respect that honor in the first place.
More than anything though, if someone demands that their fellow citizens be treated as traitors for not standing for the nation’s anthem or saying the pledge, there are several countries that would welcome them with open arms: North Korea, China, and Russia, just to name a few.~The Voice