On August 26, 2016, San Francisco 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, elected to remain seated during the playing of the National Anthem prior to kickoff against the Green Bay Packers. During post-game interviews, Kaepernick stated his decision to not stand was derived from his inability to show pride in the flag of a country that oppresses minority races and suffers from police brutality. This choice to stand up by remaining seated sent the sports world into a maelstrom of controversy which immediately permeated into nationwide social and political discourse. Over the following weeks numerous athletes from all levels of competition—including soccer, basketball, cheerleading and marching bands—began following Kaepernick’s lead in silent protest against racial discrimination.
There is a myriad of topics within this little piece of news that can be parsed out and handled independently. Most of the social media world has already attempted such a feat, creating hundreds of memes highlighting issues such as hypocrisy, patriotism, free speech, and many more. Such shallow posts—though many make great points—have only added unnecessary heat to this “hot button” issue. As such, I’ll seek to refrain from many of the popular frames of mind on this issue and propose an alternative focal point that I am honestly surprised to have not yet seen set forward.
Some say that this is a distasteful form of protest, yet others counter that it is a fine method for a football player to use his own stage to gain notoriety. Instead of focusing on the method of protest itself or even the reasons for protest, I would like to briefly examine the symbol being protested.
Unity. For centuries historians and poets alike have commented on the multitude of metaphors the American flag represents - blood, honor, sacrifice, truth, justice, and many more heroic ideals are all encapsulated by its magnificent folds. However, one quintessential and inescapable principle that it represents above all others is unity. Throughout our short lived-240 year-history our country is always at its strongest and had its greatest successes when its people were united. It was unity that won our independence. It was unity which repaired a broken nation and sent us skyrocketing into an industrial revolution after barely surviving our most divided and weakest moment - Civil War. Unity defeated tyrant nations from establishing global rule...twice. When personal finances were at their most depressing state, it was unity which set the economy back on its feet. During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s it was unity which sparked a cultural change to ensure fair treatment for all.
At all these points in history and countless others, the American flag has always proudly flown to signify that we are stronger together. That our differences can be set aside in order to achieve a more wonderful future. Yet, it is this symbol, this pinnacle of unity, which is currently being protested. Those displeased with certain aspects of the country are soiling the one emblem that has been embraced for over 200 years to remind us that no matter our tribulation, together we can change. Together, we can make America great. Look at our society today, look at our nation - the only thing protesting the flag will do is create deeper division. The flag which represents the very unity that has won us the freedom of expression is being shamed. Protesting the system which gives you the right to protest - the ignorance of such acts is baffling.
Lastly, I would be remiss to not give credit to the men and women who have fought for our flag and the liberty it represents. Grid iron, battle ground, front lines, and throwing bombs are all sports analogies I have heard used flamboyantly to intensify viewer excitement for the game. Let us not forget that it is just a game. A game freely played for entertainment, for consumerism, for profit. It has nothing truly in common with the depth of horror faced by those who serve to maintain the security which allows for tens of thousands to congregate at such events without fear of being attacked. Each service member is a person who decided the significance of their life is moot without the security of a free future and as such by the action of their enlistment is an unspoken statement, "I surrender my life to the future, to serve and protect the sanctity of our freedom and the unity of our nation."
Regardless of the administration, from Washington to president-elect Trump, our leaders change. The principles being fought and martyred for have never changed. The principles stained and woven into every color and thread of the flag have never changed, and that is why we stand united for the flag.
E Pluribus Unum – Out of many, one. The day we as a nation no longer find reason to stay united will truly be the beginning of our end.
May your fire never go out,