Standing for the National Anthem, Respecting the Flag, and Honoring Memorial Day
Some say it is just a flag. Some say it is just a song. But Old Glory and the National Anthem are more than that. The last time I remember really staring at the United States’ flag was on a blisteringly cold Sunday morning this past January. I was crying rather uncontrollably. It was draped over a beautiful and simple coffin adorned with a Jewish Star. Inside was the lifeless body of my pops. A member of the United States Marine Corps since the 1960s. He was a vocal opponent of NFL players kneeling for the National Anthem, or anybody talking or doing anything besides standing respectfully. To him, the flag represented everything that was right in America.
He despised anybody that sought to disrespect the flag. A man that knew his history of the country (military and otherwise) better than probably 98% of those that shared it with him. He knew the significance of that totem. He knew friends who were likewise buried with that one long piece of red, white, and blue cloth. When three Marines expertly folded it into a triangle and handed it over to crying mother, they too made it abundantly clear they respected the flag.
The reason this symbol carries so much weight and currently garners so much controversy is that it is a subjective entity that has a rather objective protocol, with very few deviances: you stand for the flag, and you either put your right hand over your heart, put your hands to your side, or put your hands behind your back (if you are military member, you salute the flag). Feel free to either sing along or remain quiet (even at sporting events my pops was not a fan of cheering until after the final note was completed). Ask most Americans and the first thing listed there (standing for the flag) is the most important. To do anything else is to disrespect the flag in most people’s eyes.
The NFL recently changed their National Anthem protocol to align most closely with the NBA’s. Now everybody that is out on the field for their respective teams must stand respectfully for the National Anthem. No longer will players be allowed to kneel outside. If they want to make a statement about the National Anthem during the anthem they will have to do so from inside the locker rooms, or by standing and doing something else.
There are few things more American than peacefully protesting; it is literally one of the first things in our First Amendment. The Founding Fathers knew the importance of a peaceful protest. But what has gotten lost lately is understanding the difference between a peaceful protest and “respectfully protesting.” Kneeling for the National Anthem is absolutely a peaceful way of protesting. But it is unequivocally disrespectful. It disrespects the memory of all those who have died fighting for the flag, and by extension, American ideals. Those that protest during the National Anthem are saying that America is not living up to its ideals. However, when you protest and your airing of grievances coincides with what most consider a disrespectful maneuver your message gets lost and your complaints are diluted.
This Memorial Day will be my first without my pops. Because I grew up in a stereotypical American farm town, and because my pops was a Marine, every Memorial Day he would wiggle himself into his Dress Blues (“it amazes me how these seem to shrink every year!”–Justin Donnelly) and join in the Memorial Day parade through the center of town. For most of the past decade of his life, he was the one barking out the cadence. There are few things more pride-inducing than watching your father march and lead a group of small-town soldiers in your town’s Memorial Day parade. Each one of those soldiers, from different branches of the armed forces, had one thing in common on their uniforms; a patch of the flag of the United States of America. It signifies that no matter your differences, it is the flag that unites us.
When an NFL player, or a fan at a sporting event, purposely sits down or kneels during the National Anthem, they are disrespecting the flag. This is why the NBA, which allows players to wear shirts with political messages for pregame and during the National Anthem itself, gets nothing in terms of backlash compared to the protest of the NFL. The players at least stand when making their point. It seems like a silly distinction but is one that carries great weight. It is why so many people balk at those protesting in the NFL; “we see you protesting, but we immediately do not want to listen to you because we find your manner of protest reprehensible.” Whether or not you agree with this stance, this how the majority of Americans think.
Protesting is great. Protesting is American. Protesting respectfully is how you not only make your point, but make your point heard. When you do not stand for the flag, you are doing one of the least effective things imagineable. Wear a shirt with a message or hashtag. Use your postgame news conference to speak about whatever you think is troubling this great country, but stand up for the National Anthem and show it a little respect. The only people who should remain seated are those that are physically incapable of doing so. When you think about that list, the reason for standing becomes obvious. Those that cannot stand include the sick, those confined to wheelchairs… and those that have had that flag draped over their coffins.