Countering arguments against the national anthem protests

Introduction to the cause at hand


What an usually divisive time for us as a country.

Here in the United States, players of the most watched and attended professional sport in the country today knelt, locked arms or just weren’t present during the traditional playing of the American national anthem before the games.

They’ve done this largely due to recent tweets by President Donald Trump saying members of the teams who chose not to stand during it should be fired. NASCAR owners, meanwhile, have reportedly threatened to fire anyone who protests in such a way.

Here’s my official stance. It is my own and mine alone, and I admit it’s undoubtably overdue. But here it is:

I’m glad players and teams are doing this and I think NASCAR fans should be ashamed, especially because of the number of confederate flags often present at their sport’s events.

I applaud the members of the Los Angeles Sparks for staying in their locker room during the anthem ahead of the first game of their league’s championship series, as reported by ESPNW.

The tweets by our president, in my opinion, reek of blatant hypocrisy.

The President calls out players for not respecting our flag as a country, essentially saying their lives and livelihoods should be threatened through their firing because he doesn’t like the way they propagate or exercise their freedom of speech and expression.

Yet he himself is a beneficiary of the nearly absolute protection he now says these athletes should be stripped of. He tweets, from the highest ranking office in the U.S. things that are frequently racially insensitive, broadly disrespectful, and that occasionally border on obscene.

He can get away with calling many immigrants “criminals” during his election campaign. He can talk about the sexually-harrassing of women as if it’s ethical.

Somehow, though, when it comes to these players refusing to honor America in the way Trump feels best, they should somehow be stripped of their First Amendment protections.

I categorically disagree with this, and detest the possible wide-ranging precedent which firing or even threatening these athletes with such would set.

I also, however, find a small precipice of middle-ground here, in that he should still be allowed to continue to tweet it.

Despite how serious in nature his words inherently are due to the fact that as president, anything he says or supports can be and is a statement of the official policy of my U.S. government, the fact is he is a man and a citizen of the United States. Whatever my views on his personal character, the fact is that he is an American, and to discount him his rights is, in my opinion, hypocritical as well.

I won’t do that. I think he, for all the reasons listed above, has a duty and an obligation to exercise extra care in what he says and who he says it about. I don’t, however, believe that any perceived or real failures on his part to abide by that duty mean he ought to be stripped of his personal rights.

When I read things online and see comments both through Twitter and through ESPN about the responses they receive, I generally hear two arguments for why these protests are bad and/or should not be allowed. The first is that it’s disrespectful to the flag at all and that these players are displaying a lack of patriotism. The second, which is tied somewhat to the first, is that these players make so much money they have an obligation not to protest a country which either A. They didn’t fight for (implying that somehow you have to earn your right to protest) or B: Which by virtue of its choices in entertainment allows them the so-called privilege of making more money than the rest of us (implying, in my perception, that being better off somehow entitles you to fewer civil rights).

I vehemently disagree on all accounts. Here are my arguments against each.

My Rebuttal to the first argument I hear the most

On the first account, I disagree with those who say this is a protest against America or the flag or the national anthem in the first place.

I think the public seems to be muddying the waters in terms of what this protest is about.

Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback in the league, started these protests largely in response to instances of police brutality across our country last year. Kaepernick is on the record as saying he has protested because he doesn’t agree with what he believes that flag represents. In my opinion, there’s a careful distinction to make there. Kaepernick isn’t saying he hates America or is in any way ungrateful for the institution which allows him the wide-ranging voice he now has; it simply means he hates how minorities in this country are being treated in the name of that flag. He’s not, in other words, arguing against the institution itself, or the physical symbol or the merits of democracy. He’s arguing and protesting its execution.

That ought not to be seen as rebellious or disrespectful. It ought to be seen as patriotic.

After all, our country itself was established because a group of people had protested their government and felt they were not being heard. The minority spoke up, and felt they were utterly ignored, and our nation is founded on the idea that when people feel their government is ignoring them, they have not only a right but a duty to petition. Knowing that, it seems foolish of us as a population to label these protests as disrespectful.

I also believe our government is based on the underlying principle that those in the majority, in this case white-people like myself, have an ethical duty to listen and protect the minority, including and perhaps especially from slights or oppression by us ourselves. Because of this, I believe that now more than ever, these protests not only need to be allowed, they need to be heard and seriously discussed.

And whether we agree or disagree on the facts behind those slights (I believe they’re real but understand not everyone does) that Mr. Kaepernick and the others are protesting are real and factual, one thing we shouldn’t be able to disagree on is the fact that he and those protesting have the right to protest as they feel necessary, so long as it’s peaceable and doesn’t disrupt or endanger others.

You can’t convince me the silent kneeling during the national anthem disrupts or endangers me in any way, especially not so as to merit restricting freedom of speech or expression.

Some will argue back and say “Well, his/their lack of acknowledging the flag respectfully disrespects me.” This is a foolish argument because these protests are inherently silent. Therefore you have to choose to be offended by it. You have to deliberately notice it (when, by tradition, you should be looking at the flag anyways) and you have to somehow be restricted from practicing your own form of respect for the flag by these protests in some tangible way.

“Because his actions offend me, they disrupt me because they make me angry” is not a valid reason to suppress these expressions either. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t protect your feelings. It makes no amendment which ends with “so long as it doesn’t upset or offend anyone.” So this whole argument against these protests, is in my opinion utterly invalid.

My rebuttal he second argument I hear the most against these protests

One of the other prevailing arguments comes from detractors who say “Well, he didn’t fight for that flag, others did. So he needs to respect their sacrifices on behalf of it.”

I disagree with that also.

I do not speak for all U.S. military veterans, nor do I speak for anyone in service or who will at any point serve.

I only speak for myself, and as far as I’m concerned, nobody who fights for the U.S. Constitution does so for any single part of the document or the idea behind it.

When you take an oath to service, be it military or political, you take an oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

You don’t, however, get to choose which amendments you fight for.

You don’t get to say “I’ll take a No. 1, a No.2 (I like my guns) and a No. 5 (because being compelled to testify against myself would really suck with some of the stuff I’ve done).”

You don’t get to do that. Service to our country is not a “have it your way” kind of thing. You don’t get just the toppings or ingredients or Amendments that you specifically ask for and then get to leave the others out, and you most certainly don’t get to decide who you’re buying for. You’re buying for everyone.

So when I hear military members and veterans say they didn’t fight for the rights of these players to “disrespect” America, I counter with this:

That’s exactly what you fought for.

You fought for the rights of all to help execute and effect an increasingly improved government for and by the people.

You fought not just for those you like, or with whom you agree, or who practice the same traditions or like the same sports that you do. You didn’t fight exclusively for any of that.

You fought for those voices which you disagree with too, perhaps not realizing that having both is absolutely necessary for our government to thrive, prosper, and improve itself.

So just because these men did or didn’t fight for the flag is irrelevant. Our military protects and defends the Constitution of every American citizen, whether they served or not. This is absolute, so the second argument I’ve listed is absolutely and terminally flawed.

Final Thoughts

We are in perilous times.

But in much the same way hills are miserable for the runner, so too are times of such strong and heated debates for democracy.

I believe that both running and democracy are similar in that are self-correcting processes. Hills, though agonizing, are shown scientifically to cause the body of the runner doing them to self-correct flaws in their running form, completely involuntarily. In the same way, such discussions over our national traditions and over issues such as institutional racism, however agonizing, are also absolutely vital, necessary, and must be protected for the benefit of both our democracy and those democracies abroad which look to it for example.

Let us not forget that although these protests are limited at the moment to American sports, the impact of our actions and discussion will be felt far more broadly than just our own little shores.

We as a nation, whatever our agreements or disagreements about anything, have an ethical obligation to set a good example. It can’t just be our politicians. Heck it may be outright in spite of our politicians. It has to be all of us. I cannot be just athletes, just minorities, just those with money, just those who like sports.

This time, this issue, this cause affects more than just any one group. It affects humanity as a whole. We have both an ethical obligation and a duty, every single one of us, to invite and propagate these discussions now.

Not just for us, but for all humankind.

I hope you’ll be bold enough to start a conversation, either here or on Twitter, with me or anyone else who has a viewpoint other than your own.

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