What is disrespectful?

I just listened to the president emphatically pronounce that it is disrespectful to our country to kneel during the anthem. Immediately I wondered, how do we know if something is disrespectful? To do this, I think we need to begin at the same place. Let’s define what we’re talking about. Here is what I found with a quick Google search:

Disrespect: lack of respect or courtesy
Respect: a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
Courtesy: the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others
Kneel: be in or assume a position in which the body is supported by a knee or the knees, as when praying or showing submission.

If we are going to claim something is disrespectful, shouldn’t we make sure it fits the definition? Based on those definitions, in order for these protests to be disrespectful one must demonstrate a lack of respect or courtesy towards our nation. To call the athletes who kneel during the anthem disrespectful, we would need to prove how they’re turning a position of submission into one of disrespect.

According to Colin Kaepernick, when asked why he began his protest said,

”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.”

So, while he does say he cannot show pride in our flag, that is not the same as disrespect. Not so sure? Let’s Google the definition of pride:

Pride: a feeling or deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired.

Do you take pleasure in all of the actions of our president? Are you satisfied with our foreign policy, taxes, conditions of our infrastructure, etc.? I’m certain we all can find things we are not proud of with our nation. Just because we’re not always proud, doesn’t mean we’re disrespectful.

Additionally, those who have been following the story since its inception are probably aware Mr. Kaepernick initially sat during the anthem as a sign of protest. He was contacted by a Navy Seal because the soldier thought sitting was disrespectful. After some discussion, they decided kneeling would be an acceptable and respectful form of protest. Based on Kaepernick’s actions, he specifically went out of his way, complying with the wishes of a military member, to make certain his actions were respectful. This is true.

If the protesters have not explicitly stated they’re trying to be disrespectful, perhaps there is a history of kneeling as a sign of disrespect? Clearly the definition won’t help us here. According to that, it is position used for “praying” or “showing submission”. I’m unaware of either of those acts being disrespectful.

If we ask Wikipedia, it will tell us kneeling is used for childbirth, as a sex position, and as a sign of reverence and submission. If we search for the history of kneeling, we will find there is a history of kneeling in the civil rights movement. For example, here is a picture of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. kneeling and leading a group of protesters in prayer prior to being arrested in Selma in 1965. You can find stories of people being charged with disrespect for not kneeling when they’re expected to be submissive, such as before a king or in a church. There are also examples of kneeling being used as a form of punishment or discipline.

In relation to football, you can find examples of players taking a knee when they or another is injured or tired and needs a break. They may take a knee to offer a prayer before or after the game. There are many, many examples of people taking a knee as a sign of respect, a demonstration of submission, or even as a cry for help throughout history both inside and outside of football, but I cannot find examples of kneeling being used as a sign of disrespect.

If the protesters are specifically saying they’re not being disrespectful and there is zero history of kneeling being used as a sign of disrespect, don’t you need to ask yourself why you’re so offended by this behavior? Why are you willing to overlook the numerous direct flag violations you witness on a regular basis? What is it with this behavior that so enrages you that you cannot even acknowledge the reason for the protest? Maybe it isn’t the NFL players who are being disrespectful? Being a patriot is defending the freedoms of your fellow Americans and not some imagined ideal on how you feel the flag should be respected.