The Need for Dissent and Its Relation to the Protests in Football Today
On May 24th, 2018, the 32 NFL owners voted on the incoming policy regarding protests during the national anthem. The policy, reinforced by Commissioner Roger Goodell, dictates that players must either "show respect" and stand for the anthem or remain in the locker room. Failure to do so will result in a team fine and a penalty, a crippling decision to players who want to bear the financial responsibility without hurting their team's chances on the football field, or the team's finances.
Colin Kaepernick began the movement in 2016, by first sitting, then kneeling for the national anthem to protest police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men by the hands of police officers. To clarify, it was never a protest of the anthem or the flag but a protest of how the country has not lived up to its ideals and how it failed to address this crucial issue.
This new NFL rule seems to be completely legal. Free speech is not technically being violated given the employer's right to determine what happens on "company time." However, on a moral basis this is a crucial moment in our history, this is a moment in which we, as Americans decide if we are the country that was envisioned in the 18th century or something different, perhaps something worse.
Regardless of the fact that many of these owners only care about the bottom line and not making a change in society, unlike the NBA, the fact is that these players should not be punished. In this country the best way to measure freedom is by how much one can dissent or in other words voice an opinion that goes against government, held beliefs, or a majority's perspective on an issue. How much can one criticize the government in order to make the union "more perfect?" How much can one criticize the ever-changing American culture in an effort to make all American's pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness attainable.
Limitless. That should be the answer in America. Nevertheless the conversation has been changed and contorted. Many think that those who use the national anthem and flag as a vehicle of protest (not the object of protest), are unpatriotic and according to President Donald Trump they are S.O.B's and they probably "shouldn't be in the country."1 However, shouldn't the Constitution weigh more than the flag and anthem? The flag and anthem represent beautiful things; freedom, perseverance, sacrifice, but the Constitution puts those very same ideals on paper and the Constitution very clearly states its stance on dissent. It is encouraged and protected.
Since the conversation has changed, the roots of this topic should be further explored. Many implied that Kaepernick was disrespecting the military by protesting. For some time, Kaepernick sat on the bench to protest before kneeling. His decision to kneel actually came from a conversation with Green Beret Nate Boyer, a long-snapper for the Seattle Seahawks and an American hero. Boyer suggested that Kaepernick take a knee, as a sign of respect, instead of sitting. In an interview with Bryant Gumbel Boyer stated "Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother's grave, you know, to show respect. When we're on a patrol, you know, and we go into a security halt, we take a knee, and we pull security."2. Kaepernick complied ever since.
Many have also criticized Kaepernick as a person and ultimately use that to diminish his message and again change the narrative. That criticism is fair but it should have nothing to do with the issue he is actively trying to protest. Our most beloved heroes in history that brought about change were flawed humans but their message and legacy superseded their flaws.
Lastly, another way in which the conversation was changed was expressed in the line of all lines when referencing inconvenient and uncomfortable protests; 'Why can't you just do it on your own time or in another way?" The response to this is because protests don't affect large audiences if no one is there to listen. 250,000 people involved in Dr. King's March on Washington, 250,000 people involved in the Solidarity Day March, 4 million people involved in the 2017 Women's March. The NFL garners millions of viewers, which proves to be an effective way of getting one's message out.
The Oldest Form of Patriotism
This article reflects two important aspects of American culture. "To Err is Human..." We as Americans constantly make mistakes, we change, we evolve, we learn. The proof of this is in the 27 changes we made to the Constitution, a document that still functions today because of our ability to adapt. The second aspect states that the act of dissenting in a peaceful manner is patriotic. This is in our blood, in our history, to never blindly follow the government or any President. First as rebels fighting the British colonizers, we dissented, when African Americans were denied civil rights, we dissented, and even when students were silenced and killed in the 60's, we dissented.
Those who dissent for just cause should not be told to leave the country for they are the ones to bring about change. Unarmed black men, women, and children are being killed, and some NFL players are being punished because of their dissenting views, punished for wanting to wash the flag of its flaws, punished for wanting a better country and not settling for cloth and lyrics if they don't live up to the Constitution.
This is bigger than the protests, it is a moral crossroads for America, how free are we? Does one person's view of patriotism equal someone else's? If patriotism is forced, is that an inherent robbery of liberty? One cannot boast America's freedom in regards to the rest of the world if he/she proceeds to add an "or else" when someone disagrees. That fragile mindset is territory bordering fascism, and that has no place in America. Finally, in regards to those still against the protests, Jimmy Fallon said it best while channeling Bob Dylan in his rendition of "The Times They Are A-Changing"
"Perhaps they'd stand up if you reach down your hand"
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© 2018 Gianfranco Regina