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The Grand Old Flag

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The Observer, like nearly everyone else with access to an internet connection, routinely sees our personal lighthouse battered by Hurricane Outrage, which — on a planet where billions of people struggle to find water and a crumb of daily bread — seems more like a tempest in a teapot inside a series of other, progressively larger teapots the longer we weather it.

We have, however, paid attention to the growing debate over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit during the national anthem before games. Kaepernick, who is black, says it's a protest against the way African-Americans are treated in America, including instances of police use of force and brutality. Kaepernick says he'll sit through the anthem until things change, even if it costs him his NFL career. Given the way the wind has blown on that issue in recent years, The Observer is sorry to say he may be sitting for a looooong time. It is proving to be a stubborn stone.

Yeah, Kaepernick is a guy getting paid millions to throw a ball. But The Observer stands with him. Or, in this case, sits. Yours Truly is, of course, all about some free speech. We are especially admiring of those in the limelight who use their time there not just to see how many rock-hard bods they can get up next to or how many crummy French chateau clones they can own or how much Monopoly money they can amass without Going Directly to Jail, but to try to make a statement. If The Observer was ever elevated to the status of rich and famous by our Fairy Godmother, that's likely what we'd try to do with it, once we paid off the credit cards and did a few sweet burnouts in front of the police station in our Bugatti Veyron. We'd attempt to move the needle for folks who have nothing, or at least try to make people think deeper about an issue. That's what Kaepernick is doing, and why it's important. The Observer, who might be the only male in America who doesn't give two cis-het damns about football, now knows there's a guy named Colin Kaepernick. Because of him, we've spent two days thinking about the flag — about why a multi-millionaire sitting through the anthem is, in its own way, a more powerful testament to those who sacrificed for that flag than rising with the obedient masses and going through the motions of respect. I'm sure many of you reading this will disagree with that that statement. And that's a testament to the flag as well.

The situation got The Observer in mind of our old friend Will Phillips. You may remember him. Way back in 2009, as a 10-year-old up in West Fork in Northwest Arkansas, Will decided one day that he would no longer pledge allegiance to the American flag in his classroom until LGBT people could marry whoever they wanted. His teacher argued with him. School administrators argued with him. The bullies descended. But Will hung tough, a little boy with a lion's heart. The Observer eventually wrote a story about Will. That piece got picked up by news outlets coast to coast, including "The Daily Show." Will got himself a signed letter from Sir Ian McKellen over it. That's Gandalf, to all you who don't follow the tabloids. And when LGBT folks finally won the right to marry a while back, Will put his hand on his heart and he pledged. Just as he said he would.

Will is no quarterback throwing a ball under the bright lights. Nobody was patting him on the back for his courage when the bullies came smirking after him with convictions of their own. But he was moved to make a statement about injustice, hell or high water, and he saw it through. And in that, he and Mr. Kaepernick are kind of brothers. It's also why Will remains a personal hero of The Observer. We don't have many of those. Depending on how this all shakes out, Colin Kaepernick may yet wind up one, too.

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