Civil rights takes center stage with quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal last week to stand and honor the American flag during the national anthem before a preseason football game.
Reaction has been strong, on both sides.
Some say dishonoring the flag dishonors the freedoms he lives with and the wealth he has accumulated in the National Football League.
Others say Kaepernick, who is biracial, is using his platform as a public figure to elevate a crucial issue: the “oppression” of people of color.
“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 told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
It’s hard to argue with his statement that “there are bodies in the street …” Whether this country “oppresses black people and people of color” is open to debate.
We certainly did in the past, no question about that. Has racism ended in 2016 in America? No, I’m sure it hasn’t. Yet I truly hope our laws at all levels – local, state and national – oppose racism in all of its ugly forms.
We can’t legislate morality, however. We have to live it out. Our hearts determine how far racism reaches in this country.
Dishonoring the flag
Is dishonoring the flag an appropriate protest for oppression, or any other cause? Perhaps, just because of the publicity it’s drawn.
There are other ways to dishonor the flag as well. I’ve long felt that whenever we lower the flag to half-staff, we are dishonoring those men and women who fought for our right to fly that flag high.
Sitting during the national anthem is a political statement. Lowering the flag is not, but it should be.
Our service men and women fought for our country SO THAT we can fly our flag high. Always. When we lower the flag, we are saying their sacrifice was not good enough.
The flag as a symbol
The flag itself is greater than any one person – including our presidents and soldiers. We need to find other ways to honor our dead.
Those of you who have served: Do you agree? Or do I miss the meaning of the flag?
The Star-Spangled Banner
To defend my position to keep the flag flying high at all times, I offer a short history lesson on how the Star-Spangled Banner was written.
Our national anthem is a war song. If you listen to the words, it describes a battle scene. I feel that very few singers understand this. It’s not a love song or feel-good piece, and should not be sung that way.
The battle scene was real. It took place during the War of 1812 at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Md.
Resentment for Great Britain’s interference with American international trade and impressment of American sailors (men were captured and forced into service) combined with American expansionist visions led Congress to declare war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812.
In August 1814, British troops set fire to our nation’s Capitol, the president’s mansion and other public buildings. President James Madison and his wife, Dolley, barely escaped.
With Washington in ruins, the British took aim at Baltimore, then the nation’s third largest city. At 6:30 a.m. Sept. 13, 1814, British ships began a 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry. Rockets whistled through the air, just like our national anthem describes. American troops refused to surrender the fort. By dawn the British gave up the fight.
Because the British attack coincided with a heavy rainstorm (picture that in your mind), Fort McHenry had flown its smaller storm flag throughout the battle. At dawn, as the British retreated, the commander, Major George Armistead, ordered his men to lower the storm flag and replace it with the big garrison flag.
‘Dawn’s early light’
As they raised the flag, the troops fired their guns and played “Yankee Doodle” in celebration of their victory. The banner could be seen for miles around – as far away as a ship anchored eight miles downriver where an American lawyer named Francis Scott Key had spent an anxious night watching and hoping for a sign that the city – and the nation – might be saved.
When Key saw “by the dawn’s early light” that the flag flew high, he knew the fort had not surrendered. He was so moved by the sight that he penned what later became our national anthem on the back of a letter he was carrying.
Let’s fly the American flag high, and give it the respect it deserves. It represents perseverance, struggle, suffering – and victory. We should not compromise this. Ever.
Kaepernick also should find another way to make his point. The flag represents all that is right with this country. Its stars represent all 50 states – what could be more unifying than that?
We don’t always agree on issues, of course. We’re better off because we don’t, actually, because debate forces us to discover what we value most. What am I willing to fight for?
Can we rise above the issues that divide us?
In what other country could Kaepernick disrespect his own flag and live to tell about it? Who else besides an American would even consider doing such a thing?
Can we overcome oppression by talking about it? How about focusing on the opposite: respect for all people?
Can we respect each other, even if we disagree with each other?
That’s my protest.
To proclaim it, I say let’s stand side by side, all of us, of all races and colors, and live for the good in each other. That’s what the American flag stands for.
That’s why our veterans served, and continue to serve.
Enough with hate and all its ramifications.
We can’t legislate freedom any more than we can legislate morality. Let’s live it.