If Colin Kaerpernick Has To Respect The Flag, The Country It Represents Is Worthy Of His Disrespect
Football players and fans have been working themselves into a tizzy this week over the decision of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to remain sitting during the playing of the American national anthem before the beginning of a preseason football game against the Green Bay Packers. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, explaining his decision.
The San Francisco team’s management accepted Kaepernick’s right to make this decision, saying in a written statement that, “In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
Other voices from the NFL were not so accepting. Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz told reporters, “I think, personally, the flag is the flag. Regardless of how you feel about the things that are going on in America today and the things that are going on across the world with gun violence and things like that. You’ve got to respect the flag and stand up with your teammates. It’s bigger than just you, in my opinion. I think you go up there. You’re with your team, and you pledge your allegiance to the flag and the national anthem as a team, and then you go about your business, whatever your beliefs are. Colin is his own man. He decided to sit down and sit out and that’s his prerogative. But from a personal standpoint, I think you have to stand out there with your team and understand that this is a game and understand that what’s going on in the country.”
You have to understand that football is a game and understand what’s going on in the country, so you’ve got to respect the national flag? I’m not sure how that logic works.
Fellow Giants ball player Justin Pugh made a more straightforward argument: People have died for the U.S. flag, and therefore, people should have to show respect for it. Pugh wrote on Twitter, “I will be STANDING during the National Anthem tonight. Thank you to ALL (Gender,Race,Religion)that put your lives on the line for that flag”.
Has anyone ever actually put their lives on the line for the U.S. flag? I can’t find any historical instance of such a thing.
Plenty of Americans have died fighting in wars, but none of those wars were fought specifically in order to defend any flag. They were fought to grab land from native people, to expand influence overseas, and to fight off British imperialism, but never has a war been fought by the U.S. military in which the survival of the U.S. flag was an issue of contention.
You could argue that some wars have been fought in order to protect some high ideals with which the United States has been aligned – freedom of speech, for example. Telling people that they must respect the U.S. flag, regardless of their desire to make a political point, shows disrespect for those freedoms.
The idea that the U.S. flag, or the American national identity, cannot withstand a lack of reverence at a football game seems particularly silly. NFL football games aren’t government-sponsored events. They don’t represent our democracy. All the teams are from cities within the United States, so there isn’t any national pride at stake in any NFL game. The NFL exploits the patriotic symbolism of the national anthem and flag as theatrical devices in order to manufacture a feeling of larger significance at its event.
Colin Kaepernick’S silent, peaceful protest is a refusal to participate in nationalist theater, not a blow against the American nation itself. Our democracy will not be undermined by his modest display of resistance. It is undermined by those who insist that there is no place for such protests in our country.