Article Comment 

Slimantics: Buses, food, tea and the National Anthem

 

Slim Smith

 

 

Rosa Parks was not opposed to buses. 

 

Gandhi harbored no ill will against food. 

 

As far as we know, our Forefathers liked tea just fine. 

 

Keep that in mind as you consider the NFL's new policy to deal what has been, for them, a nuisance - players taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem. 

 

Under the new rules, players must either stand for the playing of the National Anthem or remain in the locker room. As someone who has covered the NFL as reporter in New Orleans, San Francisco and Phoenix, I can tell you that the NFL's new policy was strictly a business decision. The NFL is not closing concessions stands during the anthem. That's all you really need to know. 

 

This new policy comes two years after the silent protest began when San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem in protest over police brutality targeting black citizens. Kaepernick became a free agent after the 2016 and has been unable to land another NFL job since. 

 

Other players, mostly black, continued his protest, this time by taking a knee during the anthem. Many fans, mostly white, strongly objected to the players' protest. 

 

The issue exploded into national prominence in September when President Trump weighed in on the protests, saying, "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag to say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now!'" 

 

The NFL just wants the whole thing to go away, hence the new policy. Players and teams whose players take a knee in defiance of the policy are subject to fines. 

 

However, one owner, Christopher Johnson of the New York Jets, said he will pay the fines for any players who chose to take a knee in protest. Good for him. He gets it. 

 

Others don't. 

 

Again, Trump praised the NFL's efforts to squash public protests by its players. 

 

"You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing," he said in a Fox News interview Thursday. "You shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country." 

 

If the attitude by the NFL and the President of the United States is an indication of who we have become as a country, we have crossed a dangerous threshold. 

 

Throughout our history, one of the things that has separated our nation from others is the freedom of peaceful protest. From Boston Harbor to Selma to the National Mall and cities and towns throughout the country, we have always respected the right of people to come together to protest perceived injustices. Often, those protests have called attention to long-ignored injustices and have led to much-needed change. 

 

Yet in almost all of those cases, there have been those who have objected and have deliberately mischaracterized the message of the protestors. Martin Luther King Jr. was called a communist. Vietnam War protestors were called filthy hippies. Those who participated in March for Our Lives protests earlier this year were called gun-grabbers and socialists. 

 

And now, NFL players who take a knee are being called SOBs who don't belong in our country - not by some random fan, but by the President of the United States. 

 

Trump and those who support him, have perverted the message. They say players who kneel are disrespecting our nation and our soldiers, even though not a single player has said a single thing that could be interpreted as such. 

 

The players' intent is to call attention to police brutality directed toward people of color. Before social media, it was easy enough for people to dismiss such incidents as the work of a handful of "bad apples."But as new incidents happen on what seems like almost a daily basis, the question becomes "How many bad apples can there possibly be?" The frequency suggests it is time to take an honest look at this issue. That's what taking a knee is really about. 

 

The players' attempts to stir the national conscience has been assaulted by misinformation, distortions and, with this new policy, coercion. 

 

We are all free to make up our minds on whether to stand for the National Anthem, but to command anyone to stand for the anthem is the antithesis of the patriotism the anthem is supposed to represent. 

 

The NFL's decision, backed by the support of our President and his supporters, makes our nation less free, less American. 

 

Let's be honest: Whatever taking a knee during the anthem represents, it is no more an assault on our nation and our soldiers than earlier protests were an assault on buses, food or tea. 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected] 

 

 

Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]

 

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