On January 23, the NFL rejected an ad from American Veterans, a charity that cares for the well being of former soldiers. The ad, which would have been placed in the pamphlet given to Super Bowl attendees, showed an American flag accompanied by the phrase “#pleasestand.” There was backlash, of course, with people calling what the NFL had done censorship and a political statement. The ad was in response to the movement, led by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, of players kneeling during the national anthem.
Whether you believe that Kaepernick was blackballed this season — and he definitely was — or that owners simply didn’t want the circus, the fact is that, despite not playing a snap this year, Kaepernick was the biggest story of the entire NFL season. The president of the United States publicly attacked him, saying that if he were an NFl owner he would “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.” In response to president Trump’s comments, more players than ever before took a knee. Those who knelt were called unpatriotic and un-American. The national anthem is something to be respected, was the claim many made, and veterans fought for our flag.
First, it’s important to point out the hypocrisy of the modern football fan. If you have ever been to a Patriots’ game, then you know what I’m talking about. The national anthem starts, everybody stands and looks at the flag, and it’s all very respectful. Three fighter jets fly over the stadium, and fireworks go off during “the bombs bursting in air.” The national anthem, which these players are “disrespecting,” gets interrupted by a sonic boom and flashing lights in the sky. Isn’t that disrespectful?
Second, it is flawed to say that because veterans fought for the flag, players should stand for it. Veterans, who are heroes and do deserve the utmost respect, fought for America. What is America? It is a country and an idea. It is not a flag. Where in the Constitution does it say, “stand for the flag?” Nowhere. It does say, “Congress shall make no law… abridging… the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”
The kneeling players are not hurting anyone. They are not disrespecting our veterans. They are making a statement for black rights and empowerment. In an interview with NFL.com, Kaepernick 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.” What they are doing isn’t just an on-the-field thing. Kaepernick and football player Michael Bennett, who were recently featured on the cover of The New Yorker locking arms with Martin Luther King Jr., haven’t just been kneeling. They carry out social justice work off the field as well.
A simple protest was overblown and mutated by the president of the United States into some anti-veteran statement when he called on owners to rid of Kaepernick who, in his words, “disrespects our flag.” It wasn’t. It never was. The idea that what they are doing is un-American is ridiculous. It’s the most American thing you can do, taking a stand (or, in this case, taking a knee) to achieve something you believe in.