Saturday, November 4, 2017

O Say Can You See

As published in The County Times (

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

It first appeared in this column in June with the nefarious reasons behind Colin Kaepernick’s unemployment.  It reappeared, either specifically or by gentle reference, in the last two entries.  “It” isn’t a deranged, sewer-dwelling clown but rather the various forms of protest/unity expressed during the national anthem before NFL games. 

The evolving topic returns again, here, just a few days before Veterans Day and a couple weeks before the holiday season – a time for peace and togetherness – because it remains an intriguing and important confluence of sports, politics and society. 

It also reappears because it remains unresolved: over a year after Kaepernick’s first actions, we are still wrestling with the original intent of his protest – racial injustice – and new tangential issues – be they organic or intentional diversions – such as whether protests are disrespectful and if the NFL can force players to stand (as Dallas owner Jerry Jones threatened). 

The wound continues to ooze, of course, because the socially inept NFL chose first to ignore what it hoped would wither away.  It then colluded, consciously or unconsciously, to freeze Kaepernick, the primary instigator, out of the league (my opinion).  When that failed and protests escalated to team demonstrations, owners begrudgingly, and in some cases disingenuously, participated in pre-game expressions of unity.  And when that didn’t prompt everyone to stand and ignore the gap between our Declaration, our Constitution and what many American minorities experience on a daily basis, a select group of NFL owners and players met to discuss the issue.

That’s right…roughly 14 months after Kaepernick first sat during the anthem last season, the NFL decided it was time to unclench its fist and listen to its players’ concerns.  And they didn’t even do that well: the unconscionable comments by Texans owner Bob McNair (“inmates”) and Washington owner Dan Snyder (96% are opposed to protests) indicate a mindset and an insulated perspective that perpetuates the societal flaws that originally inspired Kaepernick’s protest.  

For those annoyed by what they perceive as un-patriotic or disrespectful protests, I wonder how many have argued against encroachments on the Second Amendment while indirectly supporting convenient limits on the First and Fourth.  I wonder how many have embarrassingly chanted “O!” at Orioles games or take no issue with Kansas City fans yelling “Chiefs” in place of “brave” as the anthem has played. 

For those angered by the players’ actions, I wonder how many have researched the thoughts of players like Kaepernick to gain an understanding of the experiences that caused them to take a knee.  I wonder how many are white, exist in world where they’re almost always part of the majority and if they’ve contemplated life as a minority – be it at work, when applying for a loan, during a traffic stop or just sitting down in a restaurant for a meal.  I wonder how many have considered their own shortcomings, even if they are limited to unintended biases.

Don’t we owe our fellow Americans at least that?  In short, shouldn’t we be searching for ways to solve the problems that caused NFL players to kneel rather than ordering them to rise or shaming them – through some mischaracterization of their protest – into standing?

Senator Margaret Chase Smith delivered her “Declaration of Conscience” speech on the Senate floor in 1950.  In it she speaks of poor leadership, rails against critical elected officials too thin-skinned to take criticism in-kind and govern, laments our country being psychologically divided by confusion and suspicion and reminds her colleagues of these “basic principles of Americanism”: the right to criticize, the right to hold unpopular beliefs, the right to protest and the right of independent thought.  

Smith’s speech is a brilliant summation of our American identity, rights and the responsibility we have to exercise those rights to ensure the equal extension – in practice, not just words - of Constitutional liberties.  Despite its age, it offers sage advice on how to navigate NFL anthem protests and these most divisive times.  And because of its age, it stands witness to Colonial Williamsburg’s iconic slogan: “That the future may learn from the past.” 

May we be receptive to the timeless wisdom…

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