America was conceived in the promise of a New World and founded on the right to dissent. In November, we are reminded of our heritage by a holiday honoring veterans and another, which celebrates our right to give thanks for our blessings, to spend time with family, to eat heartily and then watch football games.
And as Shakespeare once commented long before the invention of American football: “aye, there’s the rub.” Because ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first decided to sit and then take a knee during the playing of the National Anthem, many football fans have experienced indigestion because of the protests of Kaepernick and other players.
Some of his colleagues, like former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason and all-time great Jim Brown, have called these protests disgraceful, while other players have demonstrated their support for Kaepernick’s attempt to cast light on the injustices of police brutality and racial discrimination.
President Trump, who relishes controversy of all sorts and seems especially eager to fan the flames of racial divisions, labeled Kaepernick and other protestors SOBs and called on the NFL and its owners to ban kneeling during the anthem and to suspend or fire players who did not stand for it.
His tweets had the opposite effect, at least in the short-term, as more and more players either knelt, locked arms as a team or remained in the locker room during the anthem to show President Trump that they would not stand –– literally –– for his attacks on them. But the president is no dummy when it comes to pushing people’s buttons to get the response he is hoping for, and the counter reaction of most fans to the anthem protests has been primarily in Trump’s favor.
As a former first-grade teacher and Cubmaster and a current Rotarian, I am comfortable with having practiced the ritual of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with my class, pack or club. I am proud to live in a country that honors veterans and gives thanks for its many blessings.
And as an avid sports fan, I enjoy standing for the National Anthem at baseball and football games, just as I like joining in singing the anthem any time the crowd is invited to do so.
But even as I say the words of the pledge or sing the lyrics of the anthem, I am mindful of their significance and their gravity. We are blessed to live in a nation that many of us regard as the greatest in the history of the world, but we should also recognize that our greatness derives largely because we are a nation that was founded on ideals and one that is always striving for “a more perfect union.”
We are the land of the free and the home of the brave precisely because we honor the rights of those who disagree even when they express their views in a form that we ourselves might not choose.
I respect Kaepernick and others who have knelt in support of his critique regarding police brutality and social and racial injustice. I would not have chosen his means of expression, but if I were an NFL player, I would probably be one of those locking arms with teammates who kneel as a way of demonstrating solidarity with them.
And I disagree completely with Trump’s position, which I suspect is motivated partially by his desire to court antagonisms, and partially by an old grudge that he holds against the NFL from the days when the league refused to accept him as a team owner and thwarted his efforts to develop a rival league.
As a footnote, since I have mentioned that I personally enjoy singing the National Anthem, I will add that it is not a song for a soloist to attempt casually, as many professional singers have discovered to their embarrassment before a national audience.
The anthem is best begun in a key that is as low as the second word “say” allows at the bottom of the singer’s range. Better choices for a national anthem, based purely on their melodic or lyrical qualities, might have been “God Bless America,” “America the Beautiful,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” or “This Land is Your Land.”
John McColgan writes from his home in Joseph. He can carry a tune much better than he can throw a pass.