No matter where you stand, or kneel, the real problem is a lack of cooperation in trying to remedy societal ills
Issues by nature can be divisive but the stage upon which the national anthem protests have taken are a new high.
Or low, depending on your perspective. What started as former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick remaining seated on the bench during the anthem for a preseason game in 2016 has rolled into a story that has dominated headlines and social media feeds for a few weeks now.
Kaepernick, of course, has explained that his reason for doing what he did was to call attention to racial injustice in the U.S. That explanation turned into Kaepernick apparently hating his country and a lack of respect for the flag and/or armed forces.
These days, dozens of NFL players are taking knees during the anthem and the issue shifted into fifth gear when President Trump voiced his opinions.
That’s great, really. The very fact that we have the freedom in this country to voice our thoughts publicly on an issue remains a cornerstone of our foundation. It’s a freedom that’s easy to take for granted because being muzzled isn’t something that's done here.
So the debate itself doesn’t necessarily rest in our ability to express ourselves, it rests in the interpretation of those expressions. And this is where it gets dicey because while we all enjoy the freedoms of speech no matter which side we fall on for the issue, it’s how we define that expression that heats everything up.
You see a millionaire football player on his knee during the anthem, and you think it’s a spoiled brat with no respect for this free country. Meanwhile, there is someone else in this country, perhaps even your neighbor, who sees a millionaire football player using his elevated status to send a message, a message that neighbor of yours may have been trying to voice for years but doesn’t have the benefit of a stage.
One of the interesting offshoots in all of this is that somehow, protesting an issue makes a person unpatriotic. Nothing could be further from fact. Otherwise, Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Otis — men held by many as part of the ultimate patriotic group in this country — need to have their legacies re-written.
Protesting what you see as something that’s wrong and needs to be fixed is perhaps the most American value we have. It’s a powerful tool for us as citizens, where our voices can be heard and our actions can impact change. Had Adams, Jefferson, Washington and Otis not been joined by so many others in the protests of the 1770s, we may all be Anglicans today.
It’s easy to be outraged by the athletes who take a knee but you know what? That you’re outraged means the protest is working. It got your attention and you’re shouting your opinion, whether it’s a Tweet in all caps or you’ve turned off the TV for NFL games this season.
But don’t forget, there is outrage on the other side, too. It’s how all of this got started and no matter what kind of disagreement you encounter in life, more anger doesn’t solve the problem. It rarely does.
Someone needs to step toward the middle as the first act toward a remedy but that step is a big risk and few want to take it. Or, do they?
Kaepernick’s initial protest was to sit on the bench. But two weeks later, he was taking a knee on the sideline after he talked with a former Green Beret, who suggested that taking a knee during the anthem is far less offensive than remaining on the bench.
And to the QB’s credit, he took that advice. He has remained true to his message, but he also showed a willingness to compromise in finding an end toward his goal. Of course, the pig socks Kaepernick wore in a later practice set that compromise back a bit.
But the fact of this matter remains unchanged: We have an issue on our hands and it’s not the issue that’s dividing us as much as it is the proposals to fix it. We all have opinions on whether the NFL protests are right or wrong, or whether the timing or avenue can be more appropriate.
What we can agree on, however, is that this is an issue that needs to be addressed. And we can start by taking a breath, collecting ourselves, and taking that first step toward each other.
Chavez is sports editor at The Daily Messenger. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow me @MPN_bchavez