Saints quarterback Drew Brees sparked controversy recently when he stated:
“Every time I stand with my hand over my heart looking at that flag and singing the national anthem, that’s [those who gave their lives in service to the country] what I think about. And, in many cases, it brings me to tears, thinking about all that has been sacrificed. Not just those in the military, but for that matter, those throughout the civil rights movements of the ’60s.”
Malcolm Jenkins, a teammate of Brees, responded by telling his quarterback to “Shut the f— up!”
“Our communities,” Jenkins explained, “are under siege and we need help. And what you’re telling us is ‘Don’t ask for help that way. Ask for it a different way. I can’t listen to it when you ask that way.'”
To my mind, it is not only unfortunate, but wrongheaded as well, to assume that these two perspectives are mutually-exclusive, that for one to be right the other has to be wrong.
On the one hand, I too have experienced the moment Brees’ describes. Several times a year I drive to St. Louis to watch my beloved Redbirds. Standing with thousands of fans, I get emotional when the National Anthem is performed. Why? Because there is no other moment in my life when I feel more alive and more grateful to be alive. The second the “Star Spangled Banner” begins, I am overcome with emotion stemming from two sources: The joy of being there with my fellow Cards fans, conjoined with the memory of the many Marines I served with who didn’t make it out of Vietnam to root for their favorite teams.
On the other hand, I also support Mr. Jenkins point of view. It’s important to remember what we fought for. When we enlisted, each of us took an oath–an oath that makes no mention of the flag. Rather, we swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, the Fourteenth Amendment of which gives every citizen the right of equal protection of the laws. Then there’s the First Amendment, providing every citizen the right of free speech, including symbolic speech, of which taking a knee during the National Anthem is an example. Not only are the players exercising their right of free speech, there is another component of the First Amendment being exercised–namely, their right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
When the taking a knee controversy first surface several years ago, President Trump had it within his power to address the players’ grievances in a rational manner, offering some much-needed clarity on the subject of race relations in America in general, and mistreatment by law enforcement in particular. Moreover, had our president been someone other than a demagogue specializing in dividing the country, he could have initiated a national conversation that might possibly have prevented the destructive situation we are currently experiencing. Instead, Donald Trump, whom General James Mattis recently described as “the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people—does not even pretend to try,” declared, “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country,” It’s no wonder General Mattis denounced Trump as a threat to the Constitution.
Finally, do I believe taking a knee during the National Anthem is an acceptable form of protest? Having never been pulled over by a cop for driving while white, I can’t say.