She didn’t know the backstory about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee
during the national anthem back in the spring, generally agreed to mean in protest of police killing of black people, and racial injustice generally. She heard on TV that some people felt the players were disrespecting the flag, the country, and, by extension, the military. Others felt that it was the players’ right to express their views during the time before the game when the focus, by custom, was on the national identity. Only after Trump made his comments did the actions escalate by the players, and coaches, before the next games – in all different manners – as confused as diverse as the spectators’ reactions.
That’s the problem with symbols. They don’t have inherent meaning – a rose does not mean love all by itself – we choose what the meaning is, and certainly it differs across time and cultures. A rose most likely does not mean love to those living in the Arctic, for instance.
Another example of this would be the Confederate monuments, meaning honoring the war dead to some; while others, certainly most black Americans feel threatened by it: the message they get is “we honor those who died trying to keep black people enslaved.” The fact that many of the monuments were raised well after the end of the Civil war, many during the Jim Crow era, suggests the symbols retain some of the message of white supremacy.
The further problem is that we can’t insist that everyone view symbols the same way that we do. And if we try to, there is large room for mistakes and conflict. When one of the NFL players was interviewed, he was distressed to think that people interpreted the gesture of taking a knee as being against the military – not so, he said, many players had family members actively serving, and they would not choose to insult them.
So, taking the knee – as a symbol – is just what many athletes do when listening to the coach –a source of wisdom – and/or for a moment of prayer. It would seem mainly peaceful, humbling and an appeal for action and recognition. On its merits, I don’t find it disrespectful, not like turning their backs or covering their ears, or mooning, for example.
The national anthem – as a symbol – is somewhat military based, celebrating battles in war. I would rather hear America the Beautiful, myself. I’m not sure why it became a custom during games – perhaps the “war” like confrontations on the field. In any case, it’s not a prayer and it’s not in church. People respond in different ways, in my experience.
The flag – as a symbol. We fly the American flag at our house every day; and one inside and one outside at the Cape house in Falmouth. This predates 9/11. I think it’s Don’s family as children of immigrants, they wanted to show – and be seen – as supporting the country. After the last election, we wondered, “Does flying the flag now symbolize the new administration and its nationalist agenda?” Somehow the Trump voters were able to create that association; but that’s not the association we wanted. After some thought, I said. “Of course we’ll still fly the flag. We’re no less American. We want it to symbolize all kinds of Americans, including us. ” By flying the flag, we choose it to mean our ideal of America, not another version that has been appropriated in recent years.
The NFL controversy has given way to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and more, continuing news about the hurricanes. Mostly, the start of game is back to normal – and we’ll never know if there was money at stake or jobs on the line. It’s not a happy thing to see people protesting – in most cases there is some basis to it. But I feel that Americans have a right to freedom of expression, and I would defend that right in those circumstances by those players. Trump is right that the spectators can choose not to watch the game; that’s their right, too.
In the end, Colin Kaepernick put his career on the line – for a principle. His choice. But a high price to pay for speaking up. Most black Americans have been in this country for longer than most immigrant Americans – but their experience has not been great. When and where should they protest the unjust circumstances that endure?