Anyone who knows me knows I couldn’t care less about sports. I’m not into competitive events (especially not ones that boil down to, “hit the other guy as hard as you can”). But when a sport starts stirring up political controversy and touches on issues of social justice by kneeling down during the national anthem, I can’t deny that it sits in several of my wheelhouses.
As you’ve almost certainly have gathered from the title, I have no problems with the ‘take a knee’ protests going around the NFL right now. I fact, as long they continue the protests peacefully and no one gets hurt, I wish them the best and hope people start to listen. After all, that’s the point of a controversial protest; to do something so shocking that people have no choice but to pay attention to you.
But, I also understand how a lot of people have misinterpreted this as an attack on the flag and the pledge. So, in an attempt to bridge the divide between us and promote empathy between divided factions, I’m going to attempt to debunk a few of the common complaints I’ve heard so far.
It was never about the flag
This the most common cry heard on the web right now, so I’ll keep it short. People joining the protest aren’t protesting against the flag; they’re using the flag as a vehicle to protest against police brutality.
It’s like I said at the start; the point of committing a controversial act in protest is to garner attention. If these players protested by doing something benign and mundane, you would be giving a thought about this right now. You have to do something shocking when you’re trying to rally awareness to a cause.
We ‘disrespect the flag’ LITERALLY every day (and the law doesn’t care)
This is probably the second thing people bring up when they hear the complaints of respecting the flag.
If you actually read Chapter 10, Subsection 176 of the U.S. Flag Code which details how to respect the flag, you’d find a shocking number of ways we screw it up every day. Such examples of douchebaggery towards our banner include flag-printed clothing, carrying the flag horizontally, flag-printed uniforms and costumes, and – probably the most damning of all – using the flag in advertising (actually, you can double down on that last one since you’re also not supposed to use the flag as a receptacle).
That said, almost nobody freaks out about these ‘disrespectful’ acts because the flag code makes it clear that it is merely a suggestion. It makes sure that every entry on respect is bookmarked with the word “should” – not must.
The great irony is that this protest would have probably been ignored entirely if most of us just realized what the flag code does…
The flag is not our nation
As I understand it, the reason people get up in arms about respecting the flag is that they conflate disrespecting the flag with disrespecting the nation. The fact of the matter is, however, that the flag isn’t the nation; That’s the role of the people. And this protest’s intent was trying to protect a group of people (a legitimate concern, considering how often we see side-by-side video footage of how long hostile white criminals are allowed to resist arrest compared to less threatening black perpetrators) and, by extension using my previous analogy, the nation.
When you get right down to it, the things we associate with our nation – the flag, our anthem, our pledge of allegiance and more – are just symbols our nation uses. If we started taking the advice of George Carlin and just, “leave symbols to the symbol-minded,” to focus on the REAL substance of our country – our people – we might find that we could improve this home of ours immeasurably.