These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. —Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, 1777
Ah, fall. It’s football season again, and the armchair patriots are passing judgment yet again. But, excuse me, did our false president just publicly call American citizens sons of bitches? Why yes … I believe he did.
This guy has been working overtime to conflate #TakeaKnee with disrespect for a) the national anthem, b) the American flag, and c) U.S. military veterans. And it’s working. He’s creating anger and discord across our nation. Everybody’s a superpatriot. I wrote about this a year ago, and you should read it again if the Great National Anthem Argument is raising your blood pressure.*
So, patriots, let’s talk.
a) The national anthem. You know it’s a drinking song, right? Here’s what the the Los Angeles Times says about Francis Scott Key’s 1814 poem, Defence of Fort M’Henry:
Key wrote his poem to fit the beat and melody of British composer John Stafford Smith’s “To Anacreon in Heaven”—a popular tune [at the time].
… Most elementary school classes note that the music for “The Star-Spangled Banner” came from a British drinking song. But in his well-received book, historian Marc Ferris, author of Star-Spangled Banner: The Unlikely Story of America’s National Anthem (Johns Hopkins University Press, August 2014) gives a more sophisticated reading.
“The words of ‘To Anacreon in Heaven,’ the song that Francis Scott Key borrowed for the melody of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ is a sly 1700s paean to drinking and sex. Though understated, the line ‘I’ll instruct you, like me to entwine; The myrtle of Venus with Bacchus’s vine’ is unambiguous,” he wrote.
For the record, Venus is the goddess of love and Bacchus, the god of wine, and entwine is defined in any dictionary.
Key’s poetic effort grew in popularity over the years, but sectarian interests hindered the drive for a national anthem. Who thinks about unity during a Civil War? New lyrics were added to reflect that war, but disunity was the watchword and the era became more attuned to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “Dixie.”
Prior to 1931—when it became the national anthem by congressional resolution—various other songs were played at important occasions.
But wait, patriots! When did a football game become an occasion for the national anthem? My Irish husband has always scratched his head over this propensity to reel the anthem out at every little sports gathering. But we Americans are a sentimental people, and though the anthem had been played at occasional games (“important” ones, like opening day) since 1918, it didn’t really become a thing until after World War 2. Author Marc Ferris says, “The anthem was heard everywhere” during the second world war. “Before the opera, before the movies, before the theater.” At the end of the war, NFL commissioner Elmer Layden called for the anthem to be played at every NFL game. And that’s how it started.
Fine, but prior to 2009, players stayed in the locker room until after the anthem was played! What happened? In 2015, Axios tells us in an anthem timeline,
Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake released a report revealing that the Department of Defense had spent $6.8 million between 2012 and 2015 on what the senators called “paid patriotism” events before professional sports games, including American flag displays, honoring of military members, reenlistment ceremonies, etc. The DoD justified the money paid to 50 professional sports teams by calling it part of their recruiting strategy. However, many teams had these ceremonies without compensation from the military, and there was nothing found in the contracts that mandated that players stand during the anthem. [Emphasis mine.]
So in the wake of reduced enlistments eight years after the September 11th event, the DoD decided to goose its pool of potentials, and this is when the conflation of patriotism and professional sports really kicked into high gear. Only in America.
b) The American flag. Here’s what CNN tells us about flag respect:
The Supreme Court has ruled twice that destruction of the American flag is protected by the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment’s protection of free speech, even if the act is unsettling.
One of the staunchest defenders of the decisions, and a key vote in favor of both, was conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was widely praised by Republicans after his death in February, including by Trump.
Scalia spoke about the matter in a 2012 interview with CNN, saying that while he does not approve of flag burning, it is fundamentally protected by the Constitution and the Founding Fathers’ efforts to create a government not ruled by tyranny. [Emphasis mine.]
“If I were king, I would not allow people to go around burning the American flag. However, we have a First Amendment, which says that the right of free speech shall not be abridged—and it is addressed in particular to speech critical of the government,” Scalia said. “That was the main kind of speech that tyrants would seek to suppress.”
… The cases were Texas v. Johnson in 1989, and US v. Eichman in 1990. The former case stemmed from a flag burning protest at the 1984 Republican National Convention and a Texas law banning desecration of a venerated object, and the latter responded to a bill from Congress that made harming the flag illegal.
In both cases, the Supreme Court ruled that burning a flag is an act of expression and “symbolic speech,” and exactly they type of action that the First Amendment was designed to protect.
But wait, wait, patriots. Nobody’s burning the flag (which, as we’ve noted, is permissible). The U.S. Flag code has a whole list of dos and don’ts for respecting the American flag. Here are just a few of them that you may have seen being abused around your own hometown (I know I have):
- The flag should not be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should not be used for any decoration in general (except for coffins).
- The flag should never be used for any advertising purpose. It should not be embroidered, printed, or otherwise impressed on such articles as cushions, handkerchiefs, napkins, boxes, or anything intended to be discarded after temporary use. Advertising signs should not be attached to the staff or halyard.
- The flag should not be used as part of a costume or athletic uniform, except that a flag patch may be used on the uniform of military personnel, firefighters, police officers, and members of patriotic organizations.
- The flag should never have any mark, insignia, letter, word, number, figure, or drawing of any kind placed on it or attached to it.
- The flag should never be used as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying, or delivering anything.
- In a parade, the flag should not be draped over the hood, top, sides, or back of a vehicle, railroad train, or boat. When the flag is displayed on a motorcar, the staff shall be fixed firmly to the chassis or clamped to the right fender.
- If the flag is being used at a public or private estate, it should not be hung (unless at half staff or when an all-weather flag is displayed) during rain or violent weather.
- The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally [as on, say, a football field], but always aloft and free.
The U.S. Flag Code suggests we stand when the flag is passing in a parade or being hoisted or lowered; it says nothing about standing or kneeling when the national anthem is performed. And, as we’ve already noted, a professional athlete’s right to a peaceful protest is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S Constitution.
c) U.S. military veterans. This is the one that just breaks my head, patriots. How in the world does a peaceful protest about injustices perpetrated against people of color offend—or involve in any way—American veterans? Well, it doesn’t. Here’s what Kaepernick’s colleague Eric Reid wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times:
It wasn’t until after our third preseason game on Aug. 26, 2016, that his protest gained national attention, and the backlash against him began.
That’s when my faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, “Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.
I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.
After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.
It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.
It baffles me too. I grew up in a military household with an American patriot (i.e., my daddy). I know plenty of servicemen and –women, and the ones I know will tell you straight up that an American’s right to all the protections of the Constitution is one reason why they got into this military gig. They signed an oath to protect the Constitution.
So take a chill pill, armchair patriot.
Take a step back from your outrage and listen to the protestors before you start spouting off. There’s a lot of social injustice going around, if you have eyes to see. (Another post for another time.) But let me leave you with this thought:
- 8 million Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t salute the flag.
- 200 thousand Amish don’t stand for the national anthem.
- Some Quakers don’t recite the pledge of allegiance.
But one black man** kneels respectfully to draw attention to injustice in his community and all hell breaks loose.*** The ugly comments all over social media from our fake president right on down to you are just mind-boggling. Shame on him for being a criminal and a self-centered fool. Shame on you for letting a criminal and a self-centered fool shape your opinion about anything.
* And seriously: how many times have you stood up in your living room when the national anthem was played? I’m willing to bet on none. So please: shut up.
** And have you donated a million dollars to charity like this unemployed NFL quarterback has? No? Shut up.
*** Some people might construe this as racism. The fake president is a well-known racist. Is that the sort of person you want to be associated with? No.