This past weekend my daughter and I attended what will probably be our last Connecticut Tigers minor league baseball game of the season. After passing through the turnstiles, she immediately stopped and pointed out the spot that we have designated in case of somehow getting separated. When the National Anthem played, she stood without prompting, put her hand over her heart, and turned towards the flag in center field. Proud moments.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a different approach this weekend. He not only refused to stand for the National Anthem, but says that he will continue to sit until “I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent and this country is representing people the way it’s supposed to.”
I’ve personally never been very impressed with this particular brand of social activism. I don’t find it as offensive as actual burning of the flag, but it’s still an empty gesture, an act more likely to bring attention to the individual and not the cause that inspires it. This isn’t a public figure using his platform and status to raise awareness to racial issues, it’s an act of petulance, similar to my five year old refusing to water the corner of the garden that contains tomato plants because she doesn’t like their taste.
It’s his right to do so however, that makes this country great, that freedom and liberty that The Stars and Stripes represent. Only through our ability to question authority and demand change will those changes ever come. When Kaepernick says that “I don’t see it being a distraction. It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country” they may be the delusional words of somebody with an inflated sense of self-importance, but it is through words, spoken, written, sung or shouted, that will bring us closer to becoming the country that we all aspire to be.
Not everybody feels this way. Criticism was swift and it was bellicose. What I see as a well-meaning but misguided and disrespectful use of free speech deemed recreant and treasonous by some of the more histrionic defenders of our national honor. Donald Trump suggested that “maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”
I was given a similar suggestion for saying many of the same things I’ve said here. In the New England Sports Facebook group that my wife founded and administrates, a statement was made questioning the ability of a millionaire professional athlete, raised by white adoptive parents in a 90% white city in Wisconsin to consider himself a spokesman for the plight of black Americans. The discussion degenerated into an ugly enough exchange that we were compelled to step in, chastising parties on both sides of the argument for inappropriate personal attacks and intolerant language.
Perhaps not realizing who I was at first and that I was sitting next to somebody with the power to remove them, I was called a hypocrite, a traitor, and an asshole. For daring to say that other people’s opinions needed to be respected I was told, in a far less articulate manner, that I was more concerned with being “politically correct” than I was in being right.
The truth is that I am very patriotic, and am raising my daughters to be the same. Apologies to my international readers, but I believe The United States of America to be the greatest country in the world.
That doesn’t mean that I should be compelled to ignore some of it’s fundamental flaws. A heath care system still in need of major overhaul. Banks, energy and insurance companies given free reign to screw over whoever they can. Prejudice and inequality.
My daughters will also be taught these things, with the hope that one day they can contribute in a positive manner to fostering change and doing what they can to make things better, for one person or for many. That they will never be afraid to stand up for what they believe to be right.
“This country was founded on a principle above all else: The requirement that we stand up for what we believe, no matter the odds or the consequences. When the mob and the press and the whole world tell you to move, your job is to plant yourself like a tree beside the river of truth, and tell the whole world, No, You Move.”
This line was spoken by Sharon Carter in the Civil War movie, but in Spider Man #537 it’s Captain America that delivers it. If telling somebody to leave the country for disagreeing with you is your idea of patriotism, I’m not sure you understand what actually makes this country so great. I’d also bet you wouldn’t have the balls to say that to Captain America.