You Should Never Feel Forced To Celebrate The National Anthem

I hate to use alarmist language for no reason, but I feel comfortable saying that things have been feeling a little fascist lately here in the good ol’ US of A. No, this isn’t Nazi Germany or anything. But it shouldn’t have to get to that level to leave a bad taste in the mouth of anyone who thinks that people should be able to protest just causes without the president–the so-called leader of the free world–threatening their livelihood. Now, students are being targeted as well.

Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneeling in protest. | Getty Image Sport/Michael Zagaris

Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers kneeling in protest. | Getty Image Sport/Michael Zagaris

Let’s back up for a second: Assuming you don’t live under a rock, you’ve probably heard about President Trump’s public tirades against the wave of professional athletes kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and racial inequality. Football player Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the anthem a year ago, and he paid for it by essentially being blackballed by the NFL. During a speech in Alabama nearly a week ago, Trump proceeded to refer to Kaepernick as a “son of a bitch” for daring to kneel. For the next several days, Trump went off on Twitter, ranting and raving and challenging the audacity of anyone daring to peacefully protest as “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays in the background before a sporting event. He went so far as to suggest that the NFL fire players who decided to kneel during the anthem. Well, because people’s dislike of Trump is so strong, guess what happened: Countless football players kneeled during the anthem as a massive “eff you.”

It’s scary enough for the president to suggest that anyone who doesn’t respect the “The Star-Spangled Banner”–literally, a song–as he sees fit should be fired. It’s even scarier that at least one school is poised to do just that.

 

 

Yes, this is a Louisiana public high school requiring its student athletes to “stand in a respectful manner throughout the National Anthem during any sporting event in which their team is participating.” The letter goes on to note that failure to do so will result in loss of playing time, while a continued failure to do so could lead to a student being kicked off the team entirely.

This is a massive overreaction. While silently protesting during the National Anthem was never something that wouldn’t be controversial in some way, it’s infuriating that the discourse surrounding the kneeling has changed. While Trump somehow turned a protest against police brutality and the criminalization of black bodies about himself, right-wingers and conservatives changed the conversation as well: Being anti-veteran. Kneeling during the National Anthem isn’t about the cops or the justice system anymore; nope, it’s about…disrespecting servicemen and women and the American flag. Basically, people were acting as if kneeling during the National Anthem is akin to burning the American flag and peeing on the flames. WTF?

Doesn’t anyone else find it ironic that people are being threatened for freely expressing themselves during a song that touts America as “the land of the free”?

As someone who isn’t particularly patriotic and thinks nationalism is scary, I haven’t eagerly stood with my hand over my heart during the National Anthem since I was a kid. I just don’t really care about the anthem! In general, I happily sit it out without a care in the world…because I have the right not to get emotional over a patriotic song, and so do you.

Watching the video of Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl is the only time I'm ever emotional during the anthem...and that's okay. |Getty Image Sport/George Rose/Stringer

Watching the video of Whitney Houston singing the National Anthem at the 1991 Super Bowl is the only time I’m ever emotional during the anthem…and that’s okay. |Getty Image Sport/George Rose/Stringer

I’ve seen a lot of people claim that it’s not the protest itself that is upsetting, but the mere fact that it’s occurring during the National Anthem. This is mind-numbingly insincere, because the same people likely wouldn’t like the alternative either: People protesting loudly in the streets. Besides, protests aren’t meant to make you comfortable. They’re supposed to make you pay attention. And what’s more eye-catching than seeing a bunch of athletes of the most popular sport in America do something out of the norm? Kneeling during the National Anthem is simply about bringing awareness to the injustices that face Americans–particularly black Americans–on a regular basis. Silently protesting during a song that sings the praises of this country acts as a reminder that the country hasn’t been so kind to many of its people, both in the past and in the present. If people want to kneel, or simply sit out the National Anthem, they should be able to do so without be marked as un-American or ungrateful.  Students, too, should have the right to protest systematic injustice without being threatened with removal from their volleyball team, football team, or basketball team.

“But the veterans!” people cry. You’ll hear some people shame folks who dare protest during the Anthem as anti-American idiots who don’t support people in the military. Listen, I can’t make this any more plain: This protest was never about people in the military. My mother is a veteran, and she doesn’t get mad at me or others who support this act of protest, so the idea that every veteran finds kneeling during the National Anthem offensive is complete BS. Some veterans support it, some don’t–almost as if veterans are comprised of many different people with many different opinions. With that said, it’s heartening to see veterans–like this 97-year-old who fought in WWII–support the protesters:

 

Another point worth noting: The military is full of black people. Doesn’t it make sense that they would also care about the disproportionate number of arrests, police shootings, and indictments that plague black people in this country? Their military service doesn’t make them immune from being the victims of this country’s systematic racism, period.

If you want to stand with your head held high during the National Anthem, go for it. If you don’t, you should be able to do so without being harassed or threatened, whether it’s by your school principal or the president. If you’re a student at a public school, you have the right not to participate in acts of patriotism–reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, showing reverence for the National Anthem–if you want to without the threat of expulsion. When it comes to extracurricular activities like sporting events, I’m not so sure, but maybe the ACLU is getting warmed up. Regardless, if you’re a student athlete and want to protest, I encourage you to do so with pride. Think of all the other brave people–including many brave athletes–who weren’t afraid to make people uncomfortable, to make people think, and proudly consider yourself among them.

 

You can follow the author, Ashley Reese, on Twitter or Instagram. Don’t worry, she doesn’t bite!

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