On Kneeling During the National Anthem

If you use Facebook or read the news, you’ve most likely seen this issue rear its ugly head into our lives yet again. Believe it or not, protesting the national anthem isn’t a very new concept. In fact, there is an entire history of U.S. national anthem protest. That’s right, people have been protesting the national anthem since before the 20th century, and it wasn’t until a few decades ago that it was done in support of civil rights issues.

Since the late 1990’s, the issue has been mostly under the radar. That is, until 2016 when Colin Kaepernick famously remained seated during the national anthem in a preseason NFL football game. After the fact, Kaepernick released a public statement claiming that he did not stand during the national anthem in order to express his disapproval of current U.S. race relations. Not surprisingly, he had good reason for his actions — statistics show that, in 2016, police shot and killed hundreds of African Americans (many of whom were unarmed), at a statistically significantly higher rate than any other group.

To say the least, Kaepernick’s actions stirred up some controversy. He received a lot of criticism from various groups, most notably those claiming that it’s important to stand during the national anthem to show respect for the U.S. military. In order to express that his simple demonstration was not meant to be disrespectful, in September of 2016 Kaepernick would instead begin to kneel during the national anthem (as opposed to remaining seated).

Since then, dozens of professional athletes have joined Kaepernick is protest by kneeling or remaining seated during the national anthem before their games. At the time of writing, the most recent incident occurred when the entire team of the Pittsburgh Steelers chose not to participate in the national anthem altogether. On top of this, the practice is becoming more and more prevalent at the collegiate and high school levels of sports, as well.

So what gives? Are all these people just crazy, radical protesters that are failing to do their civic duty and pay their respects to their country? The short answer is, well, no, they’re not. The long answer is below.

The way I see it, there are two ways to attack this protest, and for the most part one or the other of these two points is what people seem to be preaching:

  1. Protesting the national anthem is unlawful.
  2. Protesting the national anthem is disrespectful to the country and the military.

Let’s start with the first point, as the explanation is pretty brief. In the United States, every citizen has the right to peacefully demonstrate. One might argue that the U.S. Flag Code (who knew that existed?) requires all citizens to stand at attention during the national anthem, which is true. It does indeed require that; however, Title 18 of the U.S. code also states that the laws regarding the U.S. Flag Code are not enforced, so from a legal perspective these people are not doing anything wrong.

Now let’s move on to the second point, which is a bit more complicated. After all, the term that people tend to use here, “respect”, is inherently subjective. The word means many things to many people, and there are many ways of showing respect or a lack thereof. Although everyone seems to have some idea of what the term means and when it should be used, it’s not as if there are official human guidelines on when one’s actions imply respect. The same is true of disrespect, and a lack of respect. Anyone who tries to enforce a rule stating otherwise is stuck in a strange, narrow-minded version of the world.

In addition to this, there is another point to consider. If standing during the national anthem means to be respectful, then does not standing necessarily mean to be disrespectful? On that same note, does a lack of respect necessarily imply disrespect? In both cases, I believe that the answer is no. As I just mentioned, there are no guidelines regarding when one’s actions imply respect or disrespect.

That being said, I’m not trying to say that these protesters don’t respect their country or the military. I’m just trying to set the tone of the rest of this post to one of open-mindedness and willingness to see things from the perspective of others. This is pretty important for understanding.

The fact of the matter is, these protesters have real, serious concerns with the state of affairs in their country. If history has taught us anything at all, it’s that when people are upset with how things are going, they tend to protest. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t, but nonetheless you are reading this blog post right now, so some desired effect has been achieved — other people become aware of the issues at hand.

Now, I don’t want to speak for anyone else, but here is what I think —on one hand, these protesters probably do believe it is important to show respect for their country and their military, and they most likely realize that standing during the national anthem is one way to do so. On the other hand, they are also deeply disturbed by the actions that the leaders of their country have (or have not) taken to prevent tragedy, and they realize that not standing during the national anthem is one way to show their disapproval.

By remaining seated or kneeling during the national anthem, these protesters are not trying to be disrespectful, or even trying to show a lack of respect towards any particular group or entity. On the contrary, many of these individuals have gone to lengths to say just the opposite. If these protesters would go so far as to submit themselves to public criticism in order to vocalize their discontent, perhaps what they have to say is worth listening to.

Any way you look at it, these people mean no disrespect to their country or their military. Claiming otherwise shows a fundamental misunderstanding of what they are striving to achieve.

If you’re still on the fence, do yourself a favor. Please, take a few minutes to do some research into the movement and seriously consider things from their point of view.

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