I’ve been debating all weekend whether or not to write this. I’ve said at times that part of the reason I feel so out of place everywhere is that I often feel like I don’t fit neatly into categories and boxes, and the culture is so divided and polarized these days that I end up feeling rejected from both sides.
An example of this that has been in the news lately is the recent decision by the National Football League to require all players on the field during the performance of the Star-Spangled Banner (the national anthem of the USA) to stand. For those of you who don’t follow the NFL, or those of you reading in other countries, the very abbreviated back story is this: It has been customary to stand during the performance of this song for as long as I can remember, but in the last few years a number of players have been sitting or kneeling, with many of them saying that it is a protest about police brutality and the mistreatment of African-Americans. Most people fall into one of two camps regarding this issue: “Yay America! Everyone should stand!” or “Boo America, forcing people to stand is what dictatorships do, and the protesters are right!”
I think that protesting in this way is indeed disrespectful. As we remember on this holiday weekend, people have died for the ideals that this flag and song stand for. We have it so much better in this country than much of the world. Many of us still believe in the ideals that founded this country. And I also believe that the NFL is within their rights as a private corporation to require its players to stand for the national anthem. It is comparable to having a dress code at a place of business.
But, that said, I don’t agree with this decision. Respect is earned, not forced, and while a corporation does indeed have the right to impose rules of conduct on its employees, doing so also infringes on the concept of freedom of speech, one of the ideals that the flag stands for. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court ruled in a controversial case that burning the flag in protest is free speech and cannot be punished in and of itself. Although burning the flag extremely disrespectful, I agree with this decision. Forcing someone to show love for their country is not love at all. The NFL did say that players who don’t want to stand for the national anthem can stay in the locker room if they wish to, but that still sends the message that their protest isn’t wanted. And I don’t believe that the NFL owners and leaders really care whether or not players love their country. They saw that fans who love their country were upset about the players not standing for the national anthem, and less support from fans hurts their bottom line. This had more to do with money than patriotism.
So am I going to watch NFL games this fall? Does the fact that my team’s owner abstained from this vote, since the attention on these protests began with that team? I don’t know. I haven’t decided yet. Should I care about any of this? I don’t know. Maybe the more important thing is for both sides to listen to why the other side is upset. Maybe we really need to work on making this country a place that people love again, but without sacrificing the values and ideals that shaped this country.