The National Football League (NFL) owners, apart from the involvement of the players, made a terrible decision in May. In the 2016 season, quarterback Colin Kaepernick began sitting or kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games. He did it not as a protest against the flag or the anthem or the military, but as a peaceful protest to how African-Americans were being treated in our country. The statistics about mistreatment of blacks are alarming. Other players, both on his team and other teams, began doing the same thing. Many of them are black, but some are white. It was peaceful protesting against injustices toward minority citizens in our country, putting it in the mainstream of American history and tradition, and capturing the attention of the nation.
Though Kaepernick has had a good career start, taking his team to the Super Bowl once, and is relatively young and amazingly gifted, he was cut from his team and no team signed him to play in 2017, even though many teams need good quarterbacks. Last fall, in one of his campaign rallies, President Trump took the matter on, calling for NFL owners to fire players on their teams that didn’t stand for the national anthem. He used colorful and inappropriate language in doing so. It was shameful pandering by the president to a partisan crowd.
True patriotism cannot be commanded or demanded by government or business. True patriotism, as opposed to a shallow wrapped-in-the-flag patriotism, must come willingly and voluntarily from the citizenry. Attempting to enforce patriotism by mandating that players stand respectfully for the national anthem, or else stay in the locker room until the anthem is completed, is a violation of the word and spirit of the Constitution of the United States.
Some have argued that owners of the teams pay the players and, hence, can mandate such behavior. The owners pay the players to play a game. Whether the players stand or kneel for the national anthem has nothing to do with their fitness and readiness to play a game. The owners cannot mandate true patriotism. Our constitution is better than that and protects the rights of its citizens. The first amendment is clear: “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.” Kaepernick and other athletes are within their constitutional rights if and when they publicly kneel for the playing a song that isn’t even mentioned in the constitution.
It has also been suggested that Kaepernick can find other ways to voice his concerns. He is more than generous. Last January Kaepernick has completed his pledge to donate $1 million to charities that serve oppressed communities across the nation. He is putting his money where his heart is. I, a white person, am fully supportive of Kaepernick and those that stand and kneel with him. They love their country enough not to overlook its flaws. They stand in the spirit of the founders of our country, who rebelled and protested against injustices in their time. But in the main, those founders were blind, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, to the racism of their time. Is there any better way to honor their courage and sacrifice than by calling out and protesting the racial injustices that still exist among us?