A Parade of Fools and Hypocrites

The recent parade of professional athletes refusing to stand for the national anthem is allegedly fueled by a dedication to right the wrongs of racial inequity and to stem the tide of police activity that results in the death of people of color. The concerns are legitimate; the manner of protest is not.

Irrespective of a person’s race, ethnicity, gender, social standing or lack thereof, he or she has a Constitutional right to free speech, and to protest in the non-violent manner of his or her choice. Specifically, the First Amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Although freedom of speech has come under assault over the years, it continues to be a hallmark of the American republic. The attacks are typically in response to speech that inflames or disturbs, yet even speakers of the most inflammatory words are protected and even encouraged. Consider a perspective expressed in, of all places, dialogue from a movie. (American President).

“You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can’t just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the “land of the free”.
That statement captures the essence of free speech, and the sitting and kneeling protests being staged by NFL players bring those words to life. A disturbing aspect of these protests is the rush to defend the players who are symbolically “burning the flag” in protest, and to castigate the critics of those light the fire. Apparently, we have arrived at a point in time when the only protests that are “politically correct” are those which show opposition to the flag and “the republic for which it stands”.

Those considerations aside, protesting racial inequities and police actions by sitting or kneeling, in a public venue while the national anthem is being played, smacks of mental challenges and an agenda focused on building personal notoriety, rather than on bringing attention to injustice. How smart is it to stage a protest that denigrates the people and institutions that guarantee the right to protest? Rather than sitting on their collective asses, the players would be better advised to take positive action that directly addresses the issues. Inequities aren’t resolved by sitting when the national anthem is played, any more than football games are won by receivers who squat when they get the ball.

Certainly, the fools and hypocrites refusing to stand for the national anthem have placed themselves squarely in the arena of public attention. They have gotten the attention they so deeply crave. Yet they have done little to address their stated issues. Their actions are so offensive to so many people that their message has been obliterated; rather than a discussion of the wrongs that the sitters and kneelers are protesting, the national discourse has become focused on the offensiveness of the actions, and the right to be offensive.

As might be expected of fools and hypocrites, the protesting NFL players are symbolically attempting to burn the flag that protects them. By sitting or kneeling, their protest becomes little more than a slap in the face to the men and women who have served, and continue to serve, a nation that protects freedom and sings an anthem that celebrates, “the land of the free and the home of the brave”.



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