AMEND CORNER: Tempest over national anthem protest tests America


As if we didn’t have enough issues bouncing us around these days, now we have a flag problem.

It seems someone noticed that San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick did not stand as the national anthem was played prior to his team’s first two pre-season games. When he was asked why, Kaepernick said it was in protest, and he planned to do so again. Sure enough, he knelt behind the bench while it was played before the next game.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said.

Now before anybody invites me to emigrate to Poland or Nigeria, although the latter would be a lot closer to two of my grandchildren, I always stand for the national anthem. I was a Boy Scout in a community full of World War II vets while growing up, and learned military etiquette during two years of mandatory ROTC at UW, so I know how to stand at attention and behave respectfully. Back when I could actually sing, I did so, and I always enjoyed hitting the high notes, which sometimes startled people around me in sometimes amusing ways.

But back to Mr. Kaepernick.

Predictably, the quarterback’s action has met with angry, even raging, criticism, especially since he specifically included “police brutality” in his statement. Worse, he has appeared at practice wearing socks with figures denigrating police officers. He has been denounced for insulting America’s veterans and police, condemned for showing disrespect for the flag of a nation in which he has prospered, and belittled for protesting treatment of black Americans even though as a black person himself, he has received special treatment.

The union representing the Santa Clara police officers announced that they might not provide security for 49ers games unless they discipline Kaepernick, and there were other demands that he be cut from the team, which many people thought was going to happen anyway.

The 49ers, though, didn’t cut the quarterback or even discipline him. In their official statement, they said the team respected his right as a citizen to make a statement by refusing to stand for the playing of the anthem, and they are completely correct. Like it or not, Kaepernick’s non-violent protest is protected by the First Amendment. Not only that, it is entirely within American tradition.

America was born protesting. We celebrate our predecessors for turning Boston Harbor into a teapot to protest the monopoly granted to the British East India Company. Our Declaration of Independence is, at its core, a protest against a laundry list of British actions against the colonies.

It’s not surprising, then, that we have a long history of strikes, sit-ins, marches on Washington and other forms of protest, some peaceful, but others involving criminal acts, including arson, bomb-throwing, rioting and murder. There’s a protest going on in North Dakota as I write this, and we can’t be sure when the next terrorist strike will be.

So we shouldn’t be shocked by a football player’s protest. Given our history, I think we should respect Kaepernick for choosing a non-violent, almost unobtrusive, way to protest the injustice he sees in America today, rather than, say, blowing himself up in the pre-game huddle or pulling out a rifle and picking off a few spectators.

So you can put me in as supporting Kaepernick’s right to protest. That may irk some of you who think I’m dishonoring veterans, but I have found some veterans who are supporting Kaepernick.

One of them is Jim Wright, a career Navy man, now retired, who writes an internet blog called “Stonekettle Station.” Wright argues that Kaepernick didn’t insult veterans because the anthem wasn’t being played on Memorial Day or at a Veterans Day ceremony, or even at a cemetery where veterans are buried, when the player refused to stand. Rather, it was being played at a sports event, and, as a pre-season game, it wasn’t even an important sports event.

Further, he said many of the spectators probably weren’t looking at the flag either, because they were looking around at the crowd, talking on their phones, texting or buying a beer. How many of them, he asks, were watching Kaepernick instead of looking at the flag?

Wright also lists the problems many veterans face, including long waits at VA hospitals, suicide brought on by depression resulting from their service in combat, and homelessness and hunger due to the effects of post-traumatic stress or mental illness.

Then he asks, “How many veterans bills to address these issues passed the House and Senate while that song played? And it’s a football player you’re angry about, because he didn’t stand for a song?”

There’s more to his statement, but you get the idea. My point is that real patriotism isn’t about standing up and saluting when they play the national anthem. The American Dream isn’t going to end because a quarterback refuses to stand for the anthem, but our nation does have shortcomings that could very well end it.

As a nation, we have high ideals. They include a more perfect union and a peaceful society built upon liberty and justice for all. But no matter how much we deny it, we haven’t achieved those ideals. There are many citizens, including some veterans, who do not enjoy the same standard of liberty and justice as most of us, and we have too often handed power to those who are more interested in dividing us than uniting us.

Real patriotism would mean working toward correcting those shortcomings and achieving the ideals we claim for our country.

If we can’t begin to do that, a kneeling football player during the national anthem will be the least of our worries.

(You can find Jim Wright’s essay at