I just got home from watching the Indianapolis Colts defeat the Cleveland Browns. It’s been an interesting day. The eyes of the nation were on the NFL sidelines this week in anticipation of how the players would react in the wake of President Trump’s comments suggesting that any “son of a bitch” who would take a knee during the National Anthem should be removed from the field and lose his job. If you believe that very unpresidential rhetoric was anything more than a dog whistle to his dwindling base, you are naive. Donald Trump doesn’t care if those players stand for the anthem or not, but he knows what’s left of his supporters feel strongly about it. But I digress.
As expected, several members of the Colts and the Browns–as well as the other teams around the league–locked arms and took a knee during the National Anthem. This was met in Lucas Oil Stadium with a brief but loud chorus of boos. A moment after the anthem was finished, a 95 year old veteran was introduced and the stadium erupted with a loud roar of approval–in that roar, I felt, was as much disapproval for those who’d just been kneeling as approval for the old veteran.
A moment later, a man sitting a couple seats away from me confronted a fan two rows below us who had not stood for the anthem. The young man who had remained seated was wearing a tee shirt with a flag and the word freedom on the back. The man who confronted him said, “I see you have freedom on your shirt but didn’t stand for the anthem. How can that be?” The young man with the freedom shirt said something I couldn’t make out. The man who’d confronted him said, “I’m not trying to pick a fight, I just find it strange.” Cooler heads prevailed and nothing more was said. I found it strange, too. You could cut the irony with a knife. A young man was called out for wearing a shirt about freedom and not standing for the National Anthem. Someone apparently doesn’t really understand what freedom means.
Here’s another delicious irony–a significant percentage of the people who are most upset by these NFL players taking a knee in protest during the National Anthem are the very same people who’ve been recently bent out of shape about the removal of monuments to Confederate leaders. They are the same people who will rant about how the Confederate flag represents “heritage not hate.” Somehow, they are able to justify support for a group of people who protested against the American flag so vehemently that they created another nation and fought a war against that flag. Now, when the ancestors of the people that war was fought to free choose to kneel in protest about the injustices they see that still exist in our nation 150 years later, people lose their minds. Oh, the irony.
Here is the thing too many people seem to miss: These kneeling protesters are not disrespecting veterans–not even a little bit. They are actually honoring the sacrifices those veterans made to protect our freedoms by exercising our ultimate freedom–the freedom to protest when we feel our country isn’t living up to it’s creed. They are crying out for our great nation to be greater–to be what it is supposed to be.
I choose to stand for the National Anthem. I don’t have the guts to take a knee. I don’t want to face the repercussions of taking a knee. I don’t want to have to get into a confrontation over it. I have lived a privileged life to the extent that I haven’t had anything I’ve felt the personal need to protest. But, because of the lessons that I am learning about the message of those who choose to take a knee, I now feel some discomfort each and every time I stand, place my hand over my heart and face the flag. Every time I hear the National Anthem now, I am thinking about hurting people who feel let down by that flag–people with a wholly different American experience from me. I’m here to tell you that’s a good thing–that discomfort I am now feeling is a good thing. The reason those young men are kneeling isn’t to disrespect anyone. It is so that I will feel some discomfort as I stand. God bless them for that.
I am on the fence about the Black Lives Matter cause. I’m not ready to commit to being 100% in support of it. I have too many unanswered questions. But if millions of people perceive a problem, I’m not cavalier or dismissive enough to write them off. People are hurting and frightened, that’s enough to get my attention. When I see them care enough to take a knee when they know they will risk their livelihoods in doing so, I don’t think of it as disrespectful, I think it’s admirable–yes, I admire them. I wish I had the guts to take such a stand as they about something important to me.
I barely had the guts to sit down and write this article–even as I type this sentence, I’m still not sure I will even publish it. I know that if I do, a lot of people I know will be angered and disappointed by it. But writing is what I do and whenever I ever do manage to muster up intestinal fortitude, it usually manifests itself through my fingertips on a keyboard.
That’s a lot safer than taking a knee under a cacophony of 70,000 boos raining down from an angry stadium full of fans and facing the wrath of millions more on social media and yes, even the White House.