Get it Right: This is Not Politics or Optics

This may seem a bit out of left field, but I have to address the hot topic of the last 24 hours: Football players, owners, fans, and armchair critics of every possible rank weighing in on a non-violent, non-disruptive protest of the United States National Anthem by athletes.

I want to be super clear before I begin: This is NOT a political argument, nor an expression of my personal political views. Perhaps you could see this as a follow-up to this piece which appeared in February on Urban Mommies.

Another point of reference: I’m a second-generation military brat. As a child I lived on base. We stopped and turned in the direction of the flag every night at dusk, whether it was in view or not. We stood silently as Taps played. We honored the flag, all it represents, and all who serve.

That said, I don’t understand what the problem is. Truly. I don’t get why this is a thing that everyone is flipping out about. As a citizen of the United States I have grown up with the understanding of free speech, protests, and the importance of raising your voice to stand up not only for yourself, but your loved ones, and all those who are less fortunate than you may be.

In the last few hours I’ve read countless articles on this “controversy,” watched commentators, read the remarks of my friends, as well as the network of people I am connected to through those friends and colleagues, because I work on the internet.

To save your time, here is a short list of the points I have seen most argued as objections to those who would #TakeTheKnee (or those would support their right to do so).

  • NFL players/pro-athletes get paid millions of dollars, and therefore have no real connection to the so-called issues they claim to be protesting about. They are too wealthy and pampered.
  • They are getting paid to entertain people, so they just need to shut up and play. Basically, “I don’t want to hear about their opinions” when watching a game for entertainment.
  • When they put on the team’s uniform, they are at work, and you shouldn’t protest while you are working. They need to “do that on their own time.” In other words, they need to separate their protest from the game.
  • It’s simply unpatriotic. Besides, there is a code of conduct for how you are to behave during the playing of the National Anthem, the displaying of the American flag, etc. They are breaking the law.

*Sigh* This list could go on (and on), but you get the idea.

Since when is using celebrity to raise awareness for issues a no-no? When did we decide that if you make a lot of money you give up your right to have an opinion and speak freely? The argument that one’s financial status has anything to do with their rights is utterly anti-democratic, and un-American.

Moreover, I would argue if you make serious coin and/or have celebrity status and thereby have a platform, it is admirable – even honorable – to raise your voice whenever, wherever, and however you appropriately* can.

Let’s be really honest, most athletes aren’t born into privilege. They’ve worked their asses off, sacrificed their bodies, to get to a level where they make such “an inflated” salary for a very few years. It is a gamble, at best. Having made it to the highest level of your sport doesn’t negate the struggle you endured to get there. Likewise, it doesn’t take away your right to speak about those struggles, the struggles of others, or the wrongs you perceive in our society.

*Ok, so you agree they have the RIGHT to protest, but you don’t agree that it should be done during the national anthem, because it’s not appropriate. There are all the reasons you think that is unpatriotic, or disrespectful to veterans, or just plain illegal.

First of all, it is NOT illegal to take a knee, remain sitting, not cover your heart, not take off your hat, talk or keep walking during the playing of the national anthem. Are any of those things disrespectful, perhaps. But at every sporting event I have ever attended there are folks chatting as they walk out into the stadium to find their seats while the anthem plays. We don’t arrest these people.

And not for nothing, but I bet most of us (myself included) do not rise and cover our hearts when we are at home or in a bar, either.

Is a non-violent, non-disruptive, silent protest disrespectful? Personally, I don’t hold with that opinion. To take a knee, to raise a fist, to lock arms with your teammates, to wait to take the field, all of these are respectful ways to communicate solidarity and raise awareness that there is something you take issue with. An issue that is so important you feel your best chance to raise awareness is to protest. I respect the hell out of anyone who holds any such convictions.

Let us not forget, too, that sports teams are private entities. The leagues are privately held and operated. They are privately sponsored by companies, the athletes are in no way beholden to anyone but their teams. If the fellow players, coaches, owners, and the leagues have an issue about conduct, they will handle that matter on a private level. No one, not even the President of the United States, can force the owners to fire or otherwise penalize a player for an act of protest.

Whatever your view on this, please understand free speech and peaceful protest are among the very rights that are afforded to people in the United States. You have the right to say your peace about it, and I have mine. And because we are Americans, we don’t have to agree.

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