Editorial: NFL rule on kneeling is un-American

  • During the NFL owner’s spring meeting on Wednesday, Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that NFL team owners have reached an agreement on a new league policy that requires players to stand for the national anthem or remain in the locker room. AP

Friday, May 25, 2018

The National Football League is taking a stand on kneeling during the national anthem. In a statement released Wednesday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “All league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the Anthem may stay in the locker room until after the Anthem has been performed.” Teams will be fined if “personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the Anthem.”

The NFL’s decision no doubt makes a lot of people happy, including President Donald Trump. In a Fox & Friends interview that aired on Thursday, Trump said: “I think that’s good. I don’t think people should be staying in the locker rooms, but still I think it’s good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

Think about that for a minute. The president of the United States of America said “you have to stand proudly” – have to – for a poem written in 1814 and paired with music from an 18th-century British song or “maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.” Trump apparently believes that it is patriotic to force patriotism on others, which is more consistent with a dictatorship than a country that prides itself on the freedom of its people. Nobody has to like it when football players kneel during the national anthem – and many don’t, – but a true patriot respects their right to do so.

For a lot of Americans, “The Star-Spangled Banner” is much more than Francis Scott Key’s lyrics and John Stafford Smith’s music. It is a tribute to men and women who have fought and died for a country that has given them so much. That personal connection to the anthem is the only thing that matters. If you love your country, why would you care that somebody loves it less – or loves it differently – than you do? A kneeling football player does not have the power to diminish the personal patriotism of others and poses no existential threat to the nation. So why should it matter whether he sits, stands or kneels during the national anthem? As long as no law is broken, he should be free to align himself with his own conscience and convictions in any way he sees fit. That is America.

It’s good to show support for the troops, but nobody should have to. It’s comforting to believe in God, but nobody should have to. It’s respectful to stand for the national anthem, but nobody should have to. That, too, is America.

Trump, Goodell, many NFL team owners and millions of Americans don’t see it that way. To them, there is only one kind of patriot – the kind who stands for the anthem and keeps their mouth shut about racism and police brutality. Love it – without criticism or critique – or leave it.

That’s not America. It can’t be.