It’s his right. That’s what more than a few commentators have said about Colin Kaepernick’s refusing to stand during the singing of “The Star Spangled Banner” at NFL football games. They are correct. It is his right. But that’s not the issue.
Suppose as a comparison that I had an opportunity to meet President Barack Obama, and, instead of shaking his hand, thumbed my nose at him. I have that right. But should I do it?
No, because the issue is respect. Not standing up during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” is a way of being disrespectful to America. Arising from our seats and even putting our hands over our hearts is a deeply embedded patriotic ritual by means of which we honor the founding ideals that still instruct us, a remarkable history that has worn down so much evil, our fellow countrymen and the godly landscape that surrounds us.
Maybe you don’t like the music. Maybe you think the words overly militaristic. Maybe you find fault with the writer of the lyrics, Francis Scott Key. None of that excuses disrespect because everyone knows the national anthem and the flag we look at are symbols of something greater than themselves. That colored piece of cloth is not just a piece of cloth anymore than a $100 bill is just a piece of paper. The hopes and dreams behind that piece of cloth have bought us liberty. They have delivered us our rights. They have opened up new possibilities in life.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, is quoted as having said in an interview. “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.”
There is no question in my mind that serious racial issues still linger in this country. But understand that slavery was ended after a Civil War in which more Americans were killed than in any other war this country has ever fought. Understand the essentiality of basic American principles in a civil rights movement that helped end all kinds of evils. Understand that we elected a black president who told Howard University students not so long ago how much better the world, America and race relations were since the days he graduated from college.
President Obama, it should be mentioned, is one of those who emphasized the non-issue that Kaepernick had the right to kneel down during the national anthem. He has also spoken frequently about systemic racism in police forces. It’s a widespread, unfair impression rendering police work more difficult. The truth is that police kill far more whites than blacks in shootings even though blacks commit more violent crime. Additionally, some of those policemen accused of misdeeds in the shootings were themselves black. Of course, we should fix faults, but police are vital to our welfare and most deserve high regard.
Of course, whether one agrees with Kaepernick and Obama or not, most of us would concede some important matters are amiss — sometimes even tragically amiss — in our country. It hardly follows that the country as a whole is amiss. It is the good of this country that enables us to address the wrongs we perceive, and my guess is that more is accomplished when respect is at hand.
Incidentally, I recently read about Kaepernick’s wearing a T-shirt showing Malcolm X and Fidel Castro meeting each other in Cuba. He ought to ask some of Cuba’s political prisoners about rights and oppression.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at [email protected]