The number of ‘silent’ protests that involve kneeling during the National Anthem is increasing…but is the message behind the protests being lost?
A co-worker asked me what I thought about all of the people kneeling through playings of the National Anthem at sporting events. He then asked if I’d written about it on my blog.
I took the second question first: no, I haven’t really summarized my feelings on the subject here — at least not before now. The main reason for that is that, frankly, I’m tired of hearing about it.
But the more I thought about it, the reason I’m tired of hearing about it might just be worth discussing here.
How do I feel about people who kneel during the National Anthem?
It’s a complicated answer, because the question, though it looks simple, isn’t.
I see both sides of the original issue at the heart of the protest.
But I also see a lot more than those two sides. Because it’s now about more than that original issue.
It’s now about something totally different — what some might call a “pissing contest” — focused on something totally different than the original meaning of the original act.
As I understand it, the protests began as a way to send a message about racial injustice and police brutality. Those are concerns that need to be addressed in our society. They are legitimate problems — though people can endlessly debate the veracity of individual examples — for which we need to spend more time finding genuine solutions.
But we’re talking about sports figures who are themselves celebrities with large followings. There are other ways they could communicate that message than intentionally committing an act that is itself so polarizing.
Kneeling during the National Anthem isn’t going to make everyone stop and listen to your message: it’s the kind of act that’s going to make people angry because of the act itself, not the genuine problem that inspired the act.
Military supporters have taken predictable offense to the act just as they do any time anything to do with something patriotic being used in a means or protest. Members of the armed forces and their families complain that our servicemen and servicewomen — the real “heroes” in our society — have given their lives to protect the flag and the country being disrespected by the acts.
But that truth is a double-edged sword: their sacrifices for our freedom also gives us the right, if we choose, to take those very actions that end up disrespecting what they’ve fought for.
That’s the price we pay within our own society for freedom of speech: some of that speech may well not be the kind of speech we want to hear.
That, in and of itself, doesn’t make those points of view invalid or any less important. It’s too easy these days to forget that.
To claim to value freedom of speech but then demand others give theirs up is, at best, hypocritical. It’s too easy these days to forget that, too.
Then we have a president who isn’t exactly helping matters. Donald Trump delivered a speech on Sept. 23rd in which he suggested that NFL owners whose players disrespect the flag should say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired.”
He followed those already incendiary remarks with these tweets:
If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL,or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect….
It shouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to guess what might have happened as a result of this “tough talk.” Of course, it only made more athletes do more of the same.
How many people remember why the protest began at this point? It’s no longer about that message. Now it’s about who’ll show whom, and who gets the last word in a battle of wills over what’s acceptable.
It’s about the protest itself, not the reason for the protest.
We’re either worshipping the messengers or vilifying them. But the message itself is lost in the spectacle.
That’s why I have a problem with this kind of protest, whether you’re burning a flag or refusing to salute it: you’re taking attention away from a legitimate issue in favor of shock value, and if, by now, you can’t see that this kind of protest is all about shock value, then I just don’t understand how you can’t see it.
These star athletes have so many more people willing to hang on their every word than most of the rest of us ever will. There’s more than one way to reach that audience with a sincere message.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
And I suspect they all know that very well.
Do you think protests like kneeling during the National Anthem are effective with respect to the original message, or do you think they take on a life of their own?
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.