On Sept. 28, 2017, jerseys belonging to the New England Patriots were collectively burned in Swansea, Massachusetts by an angry mob protesting the players that knelt during the national anthem. The organizer of perhaps the hottest event in Swansea, Mark Shane, claimed that the hazardous fire was justified because the #TakeaKnee movement was disrespecting veterans.
Last August, Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, sat down for the performance of the national anthem. During the post-game press conference, Kaepernick clarified his opposition to systematic racism and police brutality and vowed to peacefully protest the national anthem until he saw meaningful change. Kaepernick received a tremendous amount of attention for his decision to sit, attention that divided NFL fans.
An opinion article published by the Army Times, written by Nate Boyer, a former NFL long snapper and United States Army Green Beret, outlines his desire for Kaepernick to find inspiration and, “once again stand during our national anthem.”
The next day, Boyer and Kaepernick met in San Diego, where Kaepernick sought Boyer’s advice regarding the best way to remain respectful to veterans while also protesting and subsequently drawing attention to the injustices that Kaepernick was kneeling for. The two decided that if Kaepernick took a knee, it would serve both as an acknowledgement of the veterans that routinely present the U.S. flag during the national anthem and acknowledgement of the social issues that Kaepernick wanted to draw attention toward.
Later that night, on Sept. 1, Kaepernick stood and hugged Boyer during the anthem, standing up.
While Kaepernick and the hundreds of supporting public figures never intended to disrespect the flag many feel as if they have. The discourse surrounding the flag is constantly in flux and does not allow it to represent any single idea and merely accompanies the United States on its journey to true freedom. It is important to remember the civil rights protestors on “Bloody Sunday” and their willingness to fight, to ignite a discussion despite clear pushback from fellow countrymen using the institution to defend their ignorance.
It is even more important to remember that the flag stood at these events, on each side of each movement, despite how contradictory and controversial they may have been. If the history of the nation teaches just one single thing, it is that the United States, seeking pure freedom in its very nature, is a constant and evolving dialogue. The dialogue directly contributes to freedom, the true meaning behind the flag and the institution of the United States of America.
Let Kaepernick and the hundreds of public figures in support of the #TakeaKnee movement use their elevated social status to raise awareness for social injustice. Whether it is in the form of a legal petition, a victory in the Supreme Court, a march across one’s home state or a knee on national television, fight the oppressing status quo. More importantly, do not let fellow people of the United States hold unsubstantiated arguments of nationalism against you and instead challenge the country to better itself. History is on the side of progress.