SYMBOLISM: Debate about Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem is nothing compared with the black power salute of U.S. athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics.
For your consideration: A New York Times article that delves
into the American tradition of playing the national anthem before sporting events.
It's not routinely played to start most work days in most workplaces (though it is in some places, a New York department store I've visited, for one). But it is routine at games if you are an outfielder, a hockey goalie, a quarterback, etc. at every level of sport. The playing of the anthem is unheard of in other countries on the athletic fields.
The article suggests that our country's unity around a creed makes its symbols ripe for use in protest. Professional sports have generally played the anthem since the 1940s, traditions dating to during and immediately after World War II. Colin Kaepernick
was not the first to avail himself of the opportunity to make a statement.
Is sitting for the national anthem, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in his criticism of Kaepernick’s actions, “being disrespectful to the American flag”? Is it, as Brees continued, “an oxymoron” that Kaepernick is sitting down because it is the anthem, and the flag, that give him the right to speak in the first place?
Or is it the reverse: that the contradiction comes from those who trumpet the freedoms the flag represents but then criticize someone who exercises those freedoms? Is Kaepernick simply doing his duty, as Schurz said, by trying to set right that which he sees in his country as having gone awry?
I suspect opinions are divided on the question.
PS: Every time the mob starts howling for the head of someone who doesn't stand for the National Anthem or refuses to participate in the Pledge of Allegiance, I like to recall the famous Arkansas case in which freedom to make such expressions were constitutionally protected. Here you can find a famous speech Dale Bumpers made
against a flag desecration amendment on the subject. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson wrote eloquently in a similar West Virginia case:
“If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.”