To the people who oppose football players kneeling during the national anthem:
Can we talk?
I don’t intend to hurl insults at you, invalidate your feelings or ignore what you have to say.
I would like to have an open conversation on a topic on which we severely disagree because as a journalist and an American, I unequivocally support the First Amendment.
I believe it is our civic duty to discuss controversial topics and support free speech.
That is why I have to say: It is illogical to claim patriotism while simultaneously rejecting Americans’ right to peacefully protest.
To be a patriot means to express devotion to your country and your country’s values.
I can understand how at first, it seems unpatriotic to ignore the anthem. That song honors our service members, right? It’s a song that most of us have been raised to believe is the embodiment of American values.
But being an American is more than a song.
If one song covered the entirety of our values, it would be a lot longer than the anthem. Have you seen our constitution?
Being an American means a lot of things, too many to list. But what I think is of particular importance in this time is our value of free speech.
To reject or deny players the right to kneel is to misunderstand and take for granted the First Amendment.
Many of us, myself included, stand during the national anthem to honor members of the military. But we have to remember, as hard as it may be: The freedom that we claim to be honoring during the anthem (the one our brave soldiers fight and die to protect) is the same freedom that allows these men to do this.
Kneeling during the national anthem is how these players are putting American values into action. They’re expressing the notion that they don’t believe the country is acting in alignment with its principles, and therefore, they cannot sit idly by. They cannot fake it any longer.
Before you leave, just hear me out.
I promise I will hear you out as well. I’m not opposed to changing my mind if I am genuinely persuaded. I can be stubborn, but I promise, I’m not unreasonable.
You must separate your emotions from what the Constitution actually protects
Our First Amendment protects speech we absolutely loathe.
We let people display swastika-printed flags and march for white supremacy, for heaven’s sake. These are sentiments that have led to genocide.
That’s how seriously and deeply we love and value our free speech.
And why? For what purpose?
We are smart enough to know that silencing someone doesn’t actually change someone.
We are smart enough to know that the key to ignorant or poorly informed speech, is not less speech, it’s more speech.
We are smart enough to know the only way to peaceful resolution is the peaceful exchange of ideas.
By shifting talking points, you miss the point
Another All the Moms writer, April Morganroth, put a lot of heart and soul into her opinion piece on this subject, essentially condemning kneelers because she sees it as disrespectful to the military.
Morganroth explains her family’s history in the Air Force, and it makes sense why she would feel so deeply and personally about the subject.
I can’t pretend to know what it feels like to see a loved one lowered into the ground after courageously defending our country. I regret that anyone has to experience that pain, and I will never stop appreciating those men and women and their families.
But I’m sorry to have to say this: You’re missing the point.
Colin Kaepernick and other NFL players did not and are not kneeling to spite you. And they’ve made that clear.
Kaepernick has said multiple times he began his form of protest to shed light on racial inequality he sees in the country. Read his statement here.
His friend Eric Reid recently published a column in the New York Times further explaining their protest.
“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite,” he said.
Reid also added that he and Kaepernick originally sat during the anthem but later decided to kneel.
“We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
Racial inequality is the topic at hand. That is what you should be discussing right now, not your preferred way to protest.
Sure, you can bring it up, but you don’t get to decide for others how to lawfully express themselves. That is antithetical to living in a free country.
So speak out. Write a raging blog post, if you want to. You’re allowed.
But please — acknowledge the players’ stated points; don’t neglect them. You have to realize that by focusing all your energy on protest format, you miss the crucial opportunity to improve relations with your fellow Americans.
If you want the players to take your perspective into consideration, then you need to take theirs in as well.
Anything short of that renders the First Amendment useless, because if we aren’t actually learning from each other’s free speech, then what’s the point?
At that point, you are failing to live up to your civic duty.
Pledging allegiance and standing hand over heart for the national anthem is not enough. That alone is not what it means to be American.
I’ll throw you a bone
If you want to condemn violent protesters who throw rocks, start fires and the like, I’ll be right there with you.
If you want to condemn student protesters on university campuses nationwide for engaging in behavior so reckless and dangerous that officials have to cancel speeches from controversial figures, I’ll be there, too.
Because that speech shuts down others’ speech.
It kills the the marketplace of ideas.
It creates a chilling effect on critical thinking and civic engagement out of fear of retaliation.
But quietly kneeling while others stand, hands over heart, to listen to the national anthem?
USE YOUR LOGIC. Think about it for longer than the 3-minute video clip or news segment you watched.
These players are not disrespecting American values; they are buying into them. They are taking advantage of legal precedent (hello, flag burning) that allows them to express unpopular opinion.
These players are not behaving disruptively.
These players are not preventing you from self expression.
They’re expressing their views, using their positions as public figures to shed light on an issue they feel deeply about.
They’re completely playing within the boundaries of free speech, and whether or not it’s disrespectful is irrelevant.
We don’t protect hurt feelings in America.
I’m not saying that’s good or bad. It’s just the truth.
And another thought: Why would anyone want them to do anything else? Forcing them to stand doesn’t make them or you more patriotic. It would just be a sham.
Is there a time and place to protest?
Morganroth made a really good point when she questioned when it is and is not an appropriate time to protest.
She talks about how she’d probably lose her job if she went out and joined a protest during work hours or if she charged to the front of the newsroom to start a protest.
I’ll admit, this stopped me in my tracks for a second.
I hadn’t thought about it like that before. They were on company time, thus the company’s dime. And to engage in an act that could potentially lose the company money?
That’s probably the most sound argument I’ve heard from the other side.
But then I realized this… most companies don’t require their employees to pledge allegiance and stand each morning to listen to the Star Spangled Banner.
So why does the football industry? It’s technically a private institution, so why are national/government interests involved at all?
And considering so many stadiums receive public funding from the government, and the First Amendment was put in place to protect citizens’ speech from the government, then the players especially should not be forced into or prevented from any specific activity that goes against their personal beliefs — be those beliefs concrete or fleeting.
So what do the NFL protests teach our kids?
They teach our kids that the First Amendment is like a muscle: When you don’t use it, you lose it. Because of sports’ historically quiet nature regarding politics, fans don’t quite know how to react to this newfound strength.
They teach our kids how to protest peacefully.
They teach our kids how to act with integrity and stand up for their beliefs.
They teach our kids how to express opinions without stifling the voices of others.
They teach our kids that it’s OK to express an unpopular opinion.
They teach our kids to use their platforms and resources for causes they believe are worthy.
They teach our kids teamwork and that whether you agree or disagree, you can always find common ground to bond over, like football.
And most importantly, they teach our kids that if you want free speech, you can’t pick and choose what receives protection.
That’s the point of free speech. That’s the spirit of our First Amendment.
And if you’re advocating against that, I don’t know how you could call yourself a patriot.