For another week, Colin Keapernick and his misguided friends have continued their protest by taking a knee during the national anthem during this week’s NFL games. It is a protest they say against oppression, police brutality, and a suite of other social justice grievances. There’s no question that any police brutality is too much. There is no argument that if police cross that line that they should be held to account. Oppression? Oppression is in the eye of the beholder, but perhaps Kaepernick and the others might like to compare notes with women, Christians, or gays from any number of Muslim countries. They might want to talk to some of the very few people who have escaped persecution from places like China or North Korea. The question is whether or not their chosen protest is disrespectful. If you deliberately withhold a sign of respect, that is by definition disrespectful.
There are all sorts of things that occur within this country’s borders that we don’t approve of. The simple ceremony of standing for the national anthem has nothing to do with approval, it has to do with honor and respect, not just for the flag, but for the country it represents. If approval for everything that a country does were the measure, then no one in any country ought to stand for their national anthem. No country is spotless and free of any civil strife. No place in the world if totally free of injustice. Some counties though, are worthy of respect from all of its citizens.
The United States more than most deserves respect. Not blind respect, but the kind of respect that comes with the recognition of what it has done throughout its history to further certain ideals. The kind of respect that comes from seeing not the bad, but the good of a country and its decided preference for the latter. It also genuine respect for the great, even astounding achievements of its citizens. Here are but a few: We freed a continent not our own from brutal oppression. We defeated another oppressive regime that dominated Eastern Europe for well over a half a century without firing a shot. We sent men to the moon and returned them safely back to earth. That was us, we did that, not some other country, we did. Because of America, diseases that once plagues mankind have been made extinct. We gave the world the electric light, the telephone, the computer. The list of America’s achievements is long, longer arguably than many other countries centuries older than us. Every single citizen of this country has more freedom that every single citizen in most of the countries in the world. Every single person in this country has more freedom of religion than every single person living in China, Iran, and numerous other countries. Such a country, despite its many faults deserves respect.
Are there issues facing this country that Kaepernick, his fellow athletes, and the rest of America should rightly speak out about? Of course. Protesting by taking a knee during the national anthem is their unquestioned right. The irony is the country that offers them that right ought to be respected for it. A further irony is that these professional athletes are rewarded for work in their chosen professions at a level that is far disproportionate to that of those who protect their rights. Their chosen form of protest does not show respect; it shows a fundamental misunderstanding of why Americans honor their country by standing for the Star Spangled Banner. The object is not to show total approval for their country, but to honor what it has been at its best, the great accomplishments of its people, and what it strives to be.