Andersen: Why kneeling means standing up
Kneeling during the national anthem has become a widespread form of protest. To some, the kneelers are insulting national pride and military sacrifice by demeaning the flag. To others, kneeling represents freedom of expression for a just cause, a constitutional right.
Only Donald “Law & Order” Trump would challenge the rationale of protests that began Sept. 1, when San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick dropped to a knee. This was one of those moments when symbolic gestures suddenly evoke global attention, when actions speak louder than words.
Kneeling is an act of fealty weighed in truth, a solemn protest against racial profiling and police “executions.” Softer than the militant clenched fist, kneeling is a supplicating form of civil disobedience well-suited to the land of “liberty and justice for all.”
Upsetting to some is that professional sports are being politicized. Pity the diehard patriot who cringes at any prostitution of the flag or the anthem that sings its praises. These tormented fans can either boycott football, the athletic aphrodisiac, or wring their hands every time a player drops to his knee.
But they should not condemn a valid expression of protest in a democratic nation whose values not only condone, but encourage, such displays. What Kaepernick did was courageous: He put his values on the line and took the hits that came with it — hits that body armor can’t deflect.
As upsetting as kneeling seems to football fans who equate gridiron spectacle with apple pie Americana, consider the outrage at having your ethnic identity targeted with abuse, humiliation and lethal force.
All Americans should drop to a knee and pledge allegiance against such injustices. Kneeling against gross violations of moral law is not doing discredit to the flag and anthem, it is honoring the human rights that these national symbols were created to represent.
Part of the affront taken by critics is a perceived debasement of the sacred institution of football and its culturally deified and commercially anointed players. These hulking icons of gridiron worship are expected to play the game and shut up about personal beliefs, at least while on TV. They are expected to perform for gladiatorial entertainment, not to promote values that challenge the collective culture.
Outspoken sports figures are nothing new. One of the most prestigious was Muhammad Ali, who used athletic celebrity to promote his unique brand of moral authority on issues of justice. People listened because they respected Ali, an articulate and successful black man, for daring to speak his mind and act out at mostly white audiences.
In the same spirit, professional athletes are taking a stand by kneeling. As Miami Dolphins player Kenny Stills was quoted saying: “At some point, Twitter hashtags aren’t enough. Eventually, you have to stand up.”
That’s not easy — standing up. Few Americans, despite our national proclamations about freedom of speech, dare to stand up — for anything. Fear of judgment, uncertainty about one’s own veracity, dread of emerging from the crowd — such impediments to free speech cloak a deeper lacking.
America is plagued by moral ambiguity in the realms of social injustice, bogus wars, commercial vulgarity, racial profiling, ethnic intolerance, corporate malfeasance, environmental degradation, political prostitution and cultural imperialism. Most Americans simply go with the flow.
Finding one’s voice in a free nation of complacent sheep requires moral judgment, conviction of beliefs, courage to speak out and trust that, while others may not support your views, they endorse your right to speak them. Sadly, most Americans are too distracted by TV and social media to latch onto a cause beyond satisfying their material appetites.
The American Indians at Standing Rock are heroes by comparison. They bravely face armed forces in an effort to challenge the tyranny of the oil and gas industry as it reaps inflated profits by encouraging a national addiction to fossil fuels.
Kneeling at a football game before the unblinking eye of public scrutiny is a similar act of bravery. It sends a message that America has work to do if we ever hope to stand proudly before the flag, with belief in goodness for all.
“America! America!/God mend thine every flaw/Confirm thy soul in self-control/
Thy liberty in law!”
Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at email@example.com.
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Two Rivers Unitarian-Universalist Church, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork Valley’s Interfaith Council and Sanctuary Unidos, is showing a Zoom presentation of the documentary “Welcome Strangers” at 10 a.m. Sunday.