Debate Forum: 9/6

Oh say, can you sit?

NFL quarterback raises questions about patriotic etiquette

By Sarah Sidlow

Recently, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick did something during a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers that he’s been practicing on the field all summer: he chose not to participate in the pre-game recognition of the national anthem.

Kaepernick, who remained seated during the anthem, says he is protesting on behalf of people who are oppressed because of their race.

The action has sparked criticism among fans, some of whom have clapped back by posting videos of themselves burning Kaepernick jerseys and other apparel. Many interpret Kaepernick’s protest as a direct disrespect of the country’s military (something Kaepernick asserts was not his intention), and claim Kaepernick is a pretty big jerk for using his public image to make such a statement while still reaping the country’s benefits. Some argue further that Kaepernick should face severe penalties for doing so.

In a recent statement, the 49ers called the national anthem a “special part of the pre-game ceremony” and “an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens.” However, the team said it also respects the right of an individual not to participate. The NFL echoed that statement saying, “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

Last year, the NFL fined Kaepernick $11,000 for using a racial slur on the field. This year, Kaepernick won’t be fined for refusing to stand for the national anthem.

In fact, for as many fans and spectators who are calling for Kaepernick’s head, and refusing to support the 49ers as a result, there are others who instead cast Kaepernick in the light of a patriot.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (NBA great and former cultural ambassador for the U.S.) in an op-ed published in The Washington Post, commended Kaepernick for going beyond First-Amendment lip service and putting his endorsements and career on the line for standing up—er, sitting down—for what he believed was a message about the need to improve our country.

All this begs the question: Are American citizens required to stand during the National Anthem? The answer is not really.

According to Title 36 (section 171) of the United States Code, “During rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present except those in (military) uniform should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.”

Should.

Section 171 does not specify penalties for violating this section of the code, and according to a Congressional Research Service report to Congress in 2008, the Flag Code is more of a guideline than anything else, and is followed on a strictly voluntary basis—anything more, Supreme Court precedent suggests, would be a violation of the First Amendment.

Kaepernick says he will continue to sit during the anthem before NFL games. NFL rumors indicate that the starter, once billed as “the greatest quarterback of all time,” is already in awkward standing with his organization, and might not see many minutes on the field as it is. So, while Kaepernick continues to sit, we’ll be watching to see if he inspires other players, who are actually playing, to do the same.

Reach Dayton City Paper forum moderator Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com

Freedom isn’t free

By Tim Walker

Don’t read this. Seriously.

Perhaps I should be a bit more specific. Don’t read this if you’re one of those people who’s been trashing NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick on social media, sharing vulgar and misguided memes, and opining that the team he plays for should bench, trade, or outright release him due to his supposed lack of patriotism. Sorry… you’re all 100 percent wrong. Colin Kaepernick is a hero, and should be held up as a role model for our nation’s youth.

Mr. Kaepernick is the NFL quarterback who has been criticized over his refusal to stand for the singing of the national anthem prior to an Aug. 26 game between his San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. He refused to stand again Sept. 1, kneeling on one knee while the anthem was played prior to a game in San Diego. He was joined by a teammate this time, safety Eric Reid, the two drawing a lengthy chorus of boos from the stadium’s crowd. To make matters worse, in Oakland, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane also sat out the anthem before his team’s game against the Raiders. The virus of anti-Americanism is spreading, it appears.

In explaining his decision to not stand for the anthem on Aug. 26, Kaepernick said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” His comments were immediately greeted with derision and disbelief by football fans. Photos of his lavish home, breakdowns of his lucrative salary, and photos of his family were circulated on Facebook as people ridiculed his decision.

This week, after a lengthy discussion with teammate Reid and former Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, at the team hotel before the game, Kaepernick shifted gears in an effort to be more respectful to those offended by his protest. “We were talking to him about how can we get the message back on track and not take away from the military, not take away from pride in our country but keep the focus on what the issues really are,” Kaepernick said. “As we talked about it, we came up with taking a knee because there are issues that still need to be addressed and there was also a way to show more respect for the men and women that fight for this country.”

I don’t follow football very closely, and I had never heard of Kaepernick prior to these incidents. But this young man – he’s 28 – has now shown himself to be a role model for the youth of this country. He should be praised and his actions should be applauded at length, rather than booed.

No American is ever required to stand during our national anthem. No one is ever required to place his hand over his hear or to remove a hat, either. Why? Because performing these simple acts should remain a voluntary demonstration of respect for the flag and for our country. To make those actions mandatory – or to deride those who choose not to participate in them – takes what should be heartfelt, prideful, and patriotic, and makes it compulsory, thus, robbing it of any meaning it might have.

This nation, still the land of the free and the home of the brave, is protected by the brave men and women of our armed forces worldwide. And what these people put their lives on the line to defend is our society and way of life, our American spirit, our freedom – all of our freedoms – with a capital “F.”

Colin Kaepernick, an American citizen, a successful professional athlete who enjoys the rewards of his success, has every right to exercise his freedom of speech. He is a reasonable individual, concerned about events taking place in this country which all of us – black or white, athlete or otherwise – should be concerned about. He has not criticized or disrespected our military in any way. As a matter of fact, he has gone out of his way to point out this is in no way his intention.

What he is – and the reason I consider him a role model – is a citizen of this great nation who is questioning what the hell is going on in our streets. Rather than fall into line with the bleating sheep, rather than be one of the herd, Kaepernick is demonstrating the courage of his convictions. He is exercising his right as an American to protest, in whatever way he sees fit, a situation in this country he feels needs to be examined.

That – not his ability to accurately throw an oblate spheroid – is something worth cheering about.

Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Calm in the pocket

By Ben Tomkins

The racial tectonics, upon which relative harmony exists, have slipped. The pressure in society has reached a slipping point, an earthquake has occurred, and people are screaming about who has caused it before we’ve even sifted through the debris for family members.

The most important thing right now is that everyone needs to start hauling pieces of brick and mortar off of any pile that has a voice underneath, and only then will we be able to have the conversation about how to prevent a future problem rather than who caused this one.

I say all this because the coverage of Colin Kaepernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem has been littered with a nearly infinite number of idiotic opinions, provocative and unethical innuendo by news organizations of all stripes, and general idiocy that wasn’t given the time of day until the internet made everyone feel important.

Therefore, I will preface this by saying my position on Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the national anthem at a pre-season game has nothing to do with the following:

1. Black Lives Matter

2. All Lives Matter

3. The military

4. Submissive patriotism as a required platform for free speech

5. The race of his mother, adopted parents, or race in general, largely used by major news organizations as a tagline before they end a segment, as if it is somehow relevant information

6. The douche who burned Kaepernick’s jersey—perhaps the most pathetic piece of nonverbal political speech I have ever had the displeasure of witnessing. See: No. 5, “news organizations.”

7. The fact that I am a white male

8. The fact that my wife disagrees with me

While that one doesn’t mean much to any of you, let me assure you, for me, that is huge. Yet, here I am, offering my opinion anyway.

I think Colin Kaepernick’s desire to make a statement of some kind is laudable, but I think the way he went about it was thoughtless and generated press that has fanned more racial flames rather than igniting dialogue. The first hint that this wasn’t great timing is the fact that nobody who could, say, take away his heavyweight title, gives a crap. The NLF doesn’t care, the 49ers don’t care, his teammates are supportive, and no one else in the league really has much to say. If he was Jackie Robinson, then his teammates might be showing a bit more strident solidarity than they are, but as it stands, his choice hasn’t produced a desirable result. Just a result.

Muhammad Ali was exactly the opposite. He defied the government—the very entity whose policies were directly impinging upon him and his race. Also, he wasn’t peripherally symbolic; he was personally on the firing line, both figuratively and literally. Yes, he was well-known because he was the mouthy heavyweight champion of the world, but his problems had nothing to do with his sport. The very fact that the very government he was criticizing was going to unjustly remove his ability to participate in it, for his choice, was exactly what made him a catalytic figure rather than a flash in the pan.

I won’t go on because I have limited space, but the reason I disagree with Kaepernick’s protest is not because of his passion, but because he could have filled a different role much more effectively. He wasn’t benched for his religion or race, he wasn’t being paid less, and he didn’t have fans calling him the N-word as he walked through the tunnel (at least, I hope not…). As he said, “To me, this is bigger than football,” and he’s absolutely right. But not standing “to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color” was, in my mind, only going to be effective if his fame created a forum for a larger dialogue.

Unfortunately, there has been no developing narrative other than petty judgments by small people for his efforts. There was no organization, no “No Vietcong ever called me [N-word]” or a call to rally around a cause for whose ideology he could be a sounding board. He’s a justifiably angry and frustrated young man, and I absolutely take my hat off to his desire to do something. However, impetuosity cost him an opportunity to make his cause bigger than himself.

I truly wish when the microphone went in his face, he had something valuable to contribute other than emotion, but it just wasn’t there. I wish he would have waited until his gesture was strategic rather than just existential, but hey, what the hell do I know? I’m just a white guy manipulating black letters on a white page to line my pocket.

Ben Tomkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colorado. He hates stupidity and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of an issue. For more of his work, visit hillofathens.com. Reach Ben Tomkins at BenTomkins@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Sarah Sidlow
Reach DCP editor Sarah Sidlow at SarahSidlow@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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