I will admit when I first saw the trend starting with athletes sitting for the national anthems, my initial response was "Oh come on! NO! STOP! Don't do that!"
It had nothing to do with the protest, or the anthem itself. It honestly had everything to do with the fact that I watch football, as a means of escaping the problems of the real world. To me, football represented a quintessential aspect of the human experience. People of all races, and backgrounds coming together under the single banner of competition. The aspects of ourselves that typically make us enemies of each other no longer existed. The only opposition we faced was the enemy whose mascot, and team colors were not our own. So for me, I didn't want anyone to protest because I was selfish. I just wanted a distraction from the real world. However, since the reality was now a part of my entertainment I wanted to know why it meant so much to so many people.
The first argument against standing was it was a tradition. Now, tradition is a funny thing. For example, my Dad had a tradition every 4th of July that he wouldn't let me shoot fireworks. Had he used the legal argument, that though South Carolina and Big Jim's Firework Mecca was basically in walking distance from Savannah, technically they were illegal in Georgia at the time, he would have had me on a technicality. No, his reason was they were dangerous.
This tradition made me swear that one day when I had kids, I would put a Roman Candle in their hands as soon as their nimble little fingers could hold it.
I had not factored in a wife or that my kids might be scared of loud noises at the time. Which, is another example of why I say God has a great sense of humor.
My point is the tradition argument didn't hold weight for me. A tradition should be a voluntary self-expression and not something of absolute devotion.
Next was the "respect" argument. Now respect is a funny thing. Well, all want it, yet we don't always want to give it. Especially to strangers. Respect is something earned, and it can be something eroded. By demanding respect, we fail to realize that though we may be respected, it doesn't mean everyone feels respected. In reality, minorities in America have been pointing out a difference of respect offered to them for the past 240 years. Does that seem fair for me to say to my fellow minority Americans, "Hey man stand-up and breath in all this respect! Doesn't it feel great!"
Remember respect is earned. Honestly, did everyone think the best way to earn it from anyone who felt disrespected was to beat them over the head with disrespect?!?! Did no one think to say, "Hey, man why do you feel disrespected?"
Now the argument that professional athletes are paid millions so they should just shut-up seems a little silly doesn't it? First of all, professional athletes are paid millions because they have worked tirelessly at one thing since they were kids to be good at it. How many of us can say the same? Shame on my parents for letting me take up varied interest growing up or I might be making millions now. Either way, I'm not counted in that lifelong dedicated category. Moreover, suddenly if you make millions you are not afforded the same rights as everyone else?
Ultimately, that left me with one last avenue to explore. The national symbolism that the flag and anthem represent. When I examined this, I found something more alarming than any athlete sitting for the national anthem. Suddenly, what I was seeing wasn't national symbolism, it was some form of quasi-idol worship.
See a symbol is merely a material representation of something abstract or immaterial. However, droves of people were acting like the power wasn't from what the symbol represented. Rather the power came from the logo itself. People acted as if everyone didn't stand at attention, hand firmly placed over their heart then America would collapse. As if we had to show proper respect to a symbolic idol or that icon would turn on us, and we would all be sinners in the eyes of angry Flag god.
I am not to say that respecting a material symbol for what it represents isn't important. However, the ideal that is represented must always be more important than the symbol itself.
So it made me wonder, how many people who stand for the anthem know what it represents? How many know that the song comes from a poem wrote by Francis Scott Key called 'The Defense of Fort M'Henry'?
More importantly how many people know what the line "In God we trust" means?
See that line was never written in homage of any particular conceptual manifestation of God. Rather, it was written as an allegory to illustrate that against even insurmountable odds America would weather the storm. America would survive because of the belief that America was exceptional. No matter what America would survive because of the belief that its existence was more important than even the people within it.
So maybe it would behoove some people to think about that line in our anthem. Maybe some people should consider that single line is the ideal that America's existence should represent.
It isn't merely any symbolic gestures attached to it.
Because if we realized and believed in the concept of "In God We Trust," then maybe we could stop blaming others for "destroying" our country. Perhaps, we could renew the faith in the motto, "United We Stand and Divided We Fall." Because in the end, that adage has been proven to be true within the history of civilians for thousands of years.
Maybe we should choose to unite instead of dividing, so Colin Kaepernick and myself can stand arm in arm to the national anthem, in a symbolic gesture potentially stronger than the anthem itself. At a minimum, it would at least give us all our brief distraction from the real world. Maybe then we might also decide to make the distraction not a short interruption from reality. Rather the distraction could become a reality itself.