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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.

15 thoughts on “If Colin Kaerpernick Has To Respect The Flag, The Country It Represents Is Worthy Of His Disrespect”

  1. Mark says:

    Just a quick comment to one of your statements:
    “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? ”
    As a matter of fact, YES. Here’s a Wikipedia link to one of our local Charleston Revolutionary War heroes.
    Sgt. William Jasper risked his life during the British bombardment of Fort Sullivan on June 28, 1776 (one week before the signing of the Declaration of Independence) in order to raise the flag on the fort battlements. His actions inspired he fellow soldiers to continue the fight that they eventually won.

  2. Alvis McGinty says:

    I guess most people do not know that there is a Public Law on a citizens conduct during the playing of the National Anthem. That public law is United States Code, Title 36, Chapter 10, 171 “Conduct during playing” that is a Federal Law. It states:
    “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in uniform should stand at attention acting the flag with the right hand over the heart. Men not in uniform should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at their left shoulder, the hand being over the heart. Persons in uniform should render the military salute at the first note of the anthem and retain that position until the last note. When the flag is not displayed, those present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed there.”
    On December 22, 1942 Public Law 829; Chapter 806 became Public Law. As a veteran, I find that the 49’s need to review their contract with Colin Kaerpernick and take some action to correct their problem. Colin has broken the law publicly and stated he will continue to break the law.
    The disrespect to all who of served, been injured and died is very disturbing. For the 49’s management to accept the disrespect and condone the breaking of federal law is even worse. I guess they think it is more important to try and win football games. The NFL needs to take notice also, or do they agree that it is okay to break Public Law?

    1. Jim Cook says:

      As a veteran, you’re wrong. That section of the U.S. Code does not define crimes. It sets a cultural expectation without force.

    2. Jim Cook says:

      P.S. By your interpretation, the Pittsburgh Steelers should fire all of its players who don’t put their helmets on their left shoulders. But you’re not upset about that, right? You’re not upset about the technicalities. You’re upset about the content of Kaerpernick’s speech.

      1. Alvis McGinty says:

        No I am not upset about helmets as that is not an military uniform.
        I am upset by the disrespect shown for this country.
        The amendment in 2008 did change the Code to say should. I missed the earlier as is has been renumbered to 301.
        I agree that there are a lot of killings going on, but all lives matter.
        Why doesn’t the other lives matter. I served so we can be free to make our choices, but to disrespect those that served to provide our freedoms is just wrong. I cannot respect someone who makes millions and hasn’t done anything but sit during the anthem to show support. He should put his money where his mouth is to support those that are being killed. A positive reaction would go a lot further in bring attention to the issue. The issue is forgotten because of the disrespectful action.

        1. Jim Cook says:

          Actually, the bit about headdress is for people not in uniform. Thank you for acknowledging that this football player did not break a law by exercising his rights.

    3. J Clifford says:

      Alvis, it IS more important to win football games than to get preachy and uptight about a piece of cloth.

      Do you really believe that people join the U.S. military, to kill and be killed, for a flag rather than for freedom?

      1. Alvis McGinty says:

        The flag represents that freedom. Disrespect should to the flag is disrespect to those the fought for the freedom.

        1. Jim Cook says:

          You have the right to voice your opinion. Those who decide not to stand for a pledge of allegiance or a national anthem have the right to voice theirs. Period.

        2. J Clifford says:

          You say a flag represents that freedom. I observe that there is no symbolism in the US flag that represents any freedom. It symbolically represents the union of certain physical territories in the stars and stripes, and the historical link with the British empire through its colors.

          I think Colin Kaerpernick’s protest does a much better job at representing freedom than a piece of cloth ever can.

  3. Dave says:

    So the flag represents an imperfect nation of people. Is this guy going to wait til it’s perfect? Big baby. The rest of us will just have to keep trying to make things work while this dude sits on the sidelines and superiorates. Jerk.

    1. Jim Cook says:

      I can see that by his action he has touched a nerve. I’m glad to hear that you’re working to combat racial discrimination in the United States, which is his goal. It’s a worthy goal, given the repeated documentation of discrimination against people of color across multiple domains in this country.

      1. Dave says:

        One might say that the flag represents a nation that has worked damn hard at rectitude concerning discrimination of minorities. Dissing the flag says “I’m not one of you.” So be it.

        1. Jim Cook says:

          One might say that continuing discrimination against people of color has been documented, and that refusing to salute that is a way of saying “I’m not treated equally by you.” So be free speech.

      2. Johnny Comelately says:

        so you ACTUALLY believe “Hands up. Don’t shoot!”……….if so. your ignorance is appalling……..

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