We know the words:
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
What we say when we recite those words is that we love our country and what it stands for. We love that we participate in a republic (not a true democracy, but as close as the Founding Fathers could come in the day), that we can vote and have a say, and that our country represents freedom and fair play. The American flag is a symbol of all these feelings and the Pledge is meant to have us feel pride in all we want our nation to represent. The flag is an important part of our identity as Americans. It calls to mind images of the Marines at Iwo Jima, the wreckage of the Twin Towers, Neil Armstrong on the Moon, any politician with a lapel, our young years in school at the start of each day, and so much more. It pisses us off when we see it stomped on, burned, or disrespected in any way because that represents spitting on the Republic for which it stands. Because that flag stands for our way of life and triumph in the face of national struggle.
For many of us, that flag also brings to mind the opening moments of every sporting event we’ve ever been to or watched on TV. That flag and the national anthem are there from Little League baseball to the World Series to, yes, the NFL. And today there’s a storm of controversy about Colin Kaepernick’s taking of a knee during the Star Spangled Banner in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Many other athletes have taken up his approach, not all of them black. He’s gotten support and he’s got his detractors. Honestly, he lost his starting job prior to this happening so his name may be the one associated to it but other athletes joining will likely end up being more prevalent. There are those who say he’s using his position of fame to make a stink, that he’s a spoiled jock who doesn’t have the brains or the background to know what struggle is, and people who wish he’d just keep his mouth shut so we can watch the teams play ball for our enjoyment. They may not feel there’s much to Black Lives Matter and don’t like what they think the movement stands for. And maybe most visibly and vehemently, they think he’s disrespecting the military who fight for the flag they refuse to salute during the national anthem.
What I’m not going to do here is argue for or against Black Lives Matter and the position this is tied to. I don’t even really want to go into the point about the military but it may be relevant because until 2009, players stayed off the field during the anthem. Then the Department of Defense and the National Guard started paying millions to have them on the field. As I mentioned, there are people who are insulted for those who fought and died for the Republic for which the flag stands. There are veterans who stand with and against Kaepernick. I respect them all, they’ve well earned the right to have those opinions. They’ve earned my right to write this and express my opinions about the matter. And they fought for Colin Kaepernick and the other athletes to make their own feelings known.
This doesn’t go back to the flag. As I said, the flag is merely a symbol of the United States of America. People wouldn’t care what happens to a piece of cloth if it didn’t stand for “One Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all”. That struggle and perseverance which made – and makes – our nation and the flag possible rely on the “liberty and justice for all” part of the Pledge which is ensured primarily by the Bill of Rights of the Constitution. The Preamble states “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” which the Pledge paraphrases.
The protest is about the “Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” and “liberty and justice for all”. Again, I’m not going to try to convince you that the athletes’ perception is valid or invalid. What I cannot deny, however is that their right to free speech is guaranteed by the Constitution and the very exercising of this right is what the fight and struggle has been – and continues to be – about. There is nothing more American. To say that they don’t have the right to make their feelings known is unequivocally against what the United States stands for. Without that freedom, what does “liberty and justice for all” even mean? What right is more worth fighting for? Hell, the 27th Amendment on Congressional pay was first ratified in 1789 and Nebraska finally supported it in 2016. Who’s holding a gun for that?
Where this gets dangerous is when an organization such as Broward Fraternal Order of Police asks the Broward Sheriff’s Department not to do their jobs until the players stand up for the anthem. To be clear, we’re talking about a loose group of citizens who is upset that they perceive the rights of a larger group are being trod on by law enforcement. And law enforcement is publicly stating that they don’t have the freedom of speech to say that. That “in certain organizations and certain jobs you give up that right of your freedom of speech temporary while you serve that job or while you play in an NFL game.” We have an enforcement organization trying to do the job of the judicial branch. The Constitution was designed to separate those powers so we don’t have judge and jury on the streets.
I know you may feel like I’m twisting the situation, but hear me out. If you see yourself as a patriot and view Constitutional rights as absolute – and that veterans have died to protect them – I don’t see how you can stand for this nor wish the players to be silenced. This is precisely why the First Amendment exists at all – so that government cannot silence the citizens of this country. It’s what separates us from a police state. There is literally no way for you to support the denial of freedom of speech and call yourself a patriot. Disagree with the stance as much as you’d like. Stop watching football and spend the time with your family. Help someone else, grill some burgers, play video games, take a nap, or anything else under the sun. But denying others their fundamental right to speak their minds in the name of patriotism is twisted in itself – and it’s fundamentally un-American.