Patricia A. O'Malley
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​Standing and Pledging:  Style Versus Substance

How one man's courage created a movement
September 13, 2016

Before three football games in August, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem.  He was protesting random police murders of innocent black men and the failure of the American justice system to hold the police accountable for those murders.  Kaepernick said "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. 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."
And then this happened.

At this writing, Kaepernick's action has spread to five more professional teams.  Dozens of players on the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs, and New England Patriots have joined the movement by sitting, kneeling, linking arms, or standing with raised fists during the anthem. Dolphins owner Steve Ross even joined four of his players by kneeling in protest, and made a public statement supporting them.

I live in Pittsburgh but I've never watched a Steeler game.   I don't do football; it's boring.  But I am thoroughly disappointed in the Steelers after every one of them – and the Rooneys –  failed to speak out for justice during their Monday Night Football national anthem spectacle.

It's often said that professional athletes are role models for children, whether they like it or not.  The protests have spread to high schools too.  So far, dozens of football players and coaches in ten states – Alabama, Illinois, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, and Virginia have joined the movement.  Those young men are most likely to be the targets of thug cops.  It shows no signs of stopping.  That's exactly the kind of role model I would want for my son.

If you haven't heard about this until now, you must be brain dead.  Every category of media has covered it – mainstream, social, sports, electronic, and print.  A Google search of "Colin Kaepernick anthem" yielded 8.5 million hits.  Everyone from President Obama to your next door neighbor has made public statements about it. 

Many of the comments are horribly racist and violent.  No surprise there.  Some geniuses claim that Kaepernick shouldn't protest because he's biracial, and was adopted by white parents. 
That's just stupid.

Others say he can't oppose racism because he makes a lot of money.  So apparently Donald Trump can't express his opinions about anything either.  Or run for president to remake America in his own image.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz (remember him?) urged Americans to stop buying the merchandise of NFL players who participate in the protests.  Yeah.  But Kaepernick's jerseys are now the best-selling NFL item.  That tells you something.

According to USA Today, Pastor Allen Joyner said, while announcing a high school football game in Alabama, "If you don't want to stand for the national anthem, you can line up over there by the fence and let our military personnel take a few shots at you since they're taking shots for you."  So apparently we honor our military by never exercising the freedom that they allegedly fight for.  
And this man has the gall to call himself "Christian".

The View host Paula Faris said "It is a right, but it's very disrespectful.  It's somewhat contradictory because here he is playing an American sport, getting paid American money from American fans — yet he can't stand for our American anthem."  But she doesn't have a problem with American cops, who swear an oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and are paid by tax dollars of Americans, killing American citizens for their own amusement, with no repercussions whatsoever.  Apparently young black men don't deserve respect.

This isn't the first time we've had this conversation.  Every so often, a school tries to force students to stand for the daily Pledge of Allegiance, thereby violating their first amendment rights.  Now, some adults are using a similar method to express their opinions.

The purpose of protesting is to expose a public issue and to make change.  Your protest must be visible enough to draw the attention that you need to make the change that you want.  Professional athletes have an enormous platform and opportunity to expose a vast systemic injustice.  I applaud them for doing so.  Our Constitution's first amendment says that the government can't restrict your speech.  But your employer can.  To their credit, neither the National Football League nor the team owners have prohibited such patriotic displays, though they can legally do so.  Yet, I wonder whether their motives are noble or financial.

According to Dave Zirin of The Nation magazine, "DeMaurice Smith, head of the NFL Players Association, says that expecting athletes to "shut up and play" isn't respecting them as fully human."

The players are expressing their opinions.  They are not forcing anyone to agree with them or to join their protest.  They are not threatening anyone.  The national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance are all about the flag.  American flag worship epitomizes idolatry.  That's ironic, since so many of the wild-eyed flag wavers claim to be bible-thumping, ten-commandments-following "Christians".   

Speaking of irony, how can we demand allegiance to a piece of cloth while violating the founding principles of the republic for which it stands?  If we believe in what America claims to stand for, then we must believe in real free speech.  That includes the right NOT to say things with which we disagree.  So mandatory standing and pledging violate our supposed "values".  Honor, duty, and patriotism come from within, not from saying a handful of words under duress.

Conservatives idolize symbols because they can't handle real life.  It scares them. 
And nothing scares regressive Americans more than young, healthy, black men with money.

Protests highlight social issues that we must address.  Typically, public officials are oblivious to public opinion. They're too isolated from real life.  So our message must be loud and clear.

Some of the most respected world leaders have used protests and demonstrations to make their points, including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, Mother Jones, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Russell Means, Leonard Peltier, Cesar Chavez, Abbie Hoffman, Molly Rush, Harvey Milk, and Nelson Mandela.

The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement supporting the protests:
"The San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick Kneeled So That We May All Stand Taller"

To be clear, I'm not telling you what to do.  You must decide that for yourself. 
But if you do want to participate in this movement, these are some of your choices:

  • Decline to stand for the national anthem when you attend an event at which it is performed.
  • Participate in other public protests or demonstrations as they arise.
  • Attend your city council meetings.  Demand that your city councils, mayors, and police chiefs stop hiring jackasses, bullies, crybabies, and psychopaths to be cops.
  • Use T-shirts, buttons, stickers, and other paraphernalia to spread the message.
  • Lobby your elected officials to create justice in the United States.  Yes, lobby.  Lobbying is not what the media says it is.  Everyone can do it.  And it's free.

Stand up for your principles, even if you stand alone.
Now, maybe we can end the legally condoned murders of young black men by thug cops.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks refused to stand and give her seat to a white man on the bus, to protest racial injustice and the failure of the United States government to do anything about it. 
The rest is history.  Pay attention.

For more information:
SB Nation:  A timeline of Colin Kaepernick's national anthem protest and the NFL players who joined him
USA Today:  High school players taking knee for national anthem across country
The Nation:  What the NFL Players' Union Chief Has to Say About Colin Kaepernick's Protest
American Civil Liberties Union Statement
Learn who, when, where, why, and how to lobby
Pledge Allegiance to the Principles, Not to the Flag
Public Demonstrations Do Bring Change
Welcome Your Rosa Parks Moment 
There is No Such Thing as a Good Cop
Black Lives Matter

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Patricia A. O'Malley

Social Policy & Programs Consulting

Training and Services for agencies working toward social and economic justice