Category: Sports

The pregame protest

KOMO radio in Seattle reports:

Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin tweeted Thursday that the team “will honor the country and flag” in a “demonstration of unity” prior to Sunday’s season opener against Miami.

When approached in the locker room by reporters, Baldwin declined to elaborate further saying, “you’ll see on Sunday.”

Former Green Beret and one-time Seahawks long-snapper Nate Boyer later tweeted that he had spoken with the Seahawks players about their plans and wrote, “what the team will do is a powerful sign of unification + respect for the Anthem + those that fight for our Freedom!”

In an interview with Fox Sports Radio later Thursday, Boyer expanded on his tweet .

“I spoke with the players, and they realize that 9/11 is a very important day in our nation’s history. The Seahawks, and probably every team, will be honoring those who serve in camouflage, and also those in blue who served on such a difficult day,” Boyer said. “Shortly after 9/11 our country seemed more unified than I had ever experienced, and was the most unified it has been since I have been alive. Since that date, we have grown farther apart in our unity. Standing together this Sunday is key to making progress. What the team will do is a powerful sign of unification.”

That came after previous reports that the Seahawks were planning to emulate in some fashion San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first sat during the National Anthem, then one week later knelt because, as he told NFL Media two weeks ago …

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Just in case it isn’t obvious: The “people” Kaepernick is referring to is the police.

The 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick’s decision: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

Niners coach Chip Kelly told reporters Saturday that Kaepernick’s decision not to stand during the national anthem is “his right as a citizen” and said “it’s not my right to tell him not to do something.”

The NFL also released a statement, obtained by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.”

By taking a stand for civil rights, Kaepernick, 28, joins other athletes, like the NBA’s Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and several WNBA players in using their platform and status to raise awareness to issues affecting minorities in the U.S.
However, refusal to support the American flag as a means to take a stand has brought incredible backlash before and likely will in this instance. The NBA’s Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf of the Denver Nuggets, formerly Chris Jackson before converting to Islam, refused to acknowledge the flag in protest, citing similar reasons as Kaepernick and saying that it conflicted with some of his Islamic beliefs.

Abdul-Rauf drew the ire of fans and was briefly suspended by the NBA before a compromise was worked out between the league and player, who eventually stood with his teammates and coaches at the playing of the national anthem.

Kaepernick said that he is aware of what he is doing and that he knows it will not sit well with a lot of people, including the 49ers. He said that he did not inform the club or anyone affiliated with the team of his intentions to protest the national anthem.

“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”

Kaepernick said that he has thought about going public with his feelings for a while but that “I felt that I needed to understand the situation better.”

He said that he has discussed his feelings with his family and, after months of witnessing some of the civil unrest in the U.S., decided to be more active and involved in rights for black people. Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents and siblings.

Kaepernick was supported by soccer player Megan Rapinoe, as Sam Laird reported:

Rapinoe, a star on the powerhouse U.S. women’s soccer team, took a knee during the national anthem before a Sunday National Women’s Soccer League match between her Seattle Reign and the Chicago Red Stars. Afterwards, she was direct in explaining what went into the decision.

“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,” she told American Soccer Now. “It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”

Whatever Rapinoe planned to do for her next protest wasn’t seen in public, because the Washington Spirit’s national anthem was played Spirit and Reign players were in the locker room the next week. This is the case in many high school, college and NFL games, and this may well become the norm soon if players decide to protest instead of stand in something approximating attention.

The most famous National Anthem protest took place in Mexico City during the 1968 Olympic Games:

Readers know I have an odd history (“Now he tells us,” readers say) around the National Anthem. Before two 1984 UW games an anti-nuclear dance group called Nu Parable ran out onto the Camp Randall Stadium turf (really green-painted asphalt, but only my joints below my hips find that important right now) when the UW Marching Band got to “And the rockets’ red glare.” (Which was, to say the least, not what I expected to be seeing standing on the field playing trumpet.) This was Nu Parable’s way of showing that Ronald Reagan, having unaccountably failed to destroy the world during his first term in office, would undoubtedly accomplish that in his second term. One of the Nu Parables was literally punted by a band member (and Marine reservist) who found the NuP in his way while marching, and the rest of them were stared at by our drum major, who always struck me as resembling the Grim Reaper (and if looks could kill all the NuPs would have decomposed upon drum major’s sight), while being arrested by UW police.

The next home game before the election, the Nu Parables stayed well clear of the band, while being loudly booed by the crowd, which previously acted confused at what they were seeing. (UW students both weeks chanted “Nuke ’em! Nuke ’em!”, which might indicate that UW students who go to Badger games may not be, or have been, as liberal as popularly portrayed.

There is no First Amendment cause to ban Kaepernick, Baldwin, Rapinoe or anyone else from doing something other than standing at attention. The First Amendment bans government from banning freedom of expression. (Although I’m pretty sure the Nu Parable dancer/protesters were arrested for disorderly conduct or something.) Perhaps surprisingly, the NFL hasn’t censured Kaepernick either. I’m not surprised the 49ers haven’t, although it should be obvious that such a protest would be supported more in some markets than in others, such as Green Bay.

The next time you’re at a sporting event and the National Anthem is played, observe what others do. (Hopefully it’s a live performance and not a recording.) Media types rarely stand at attention hand on heart, in large part because they’re carrying cameras or other equipment, or because they’re inside the press box, which they assume isn’t inside the stadium, or something like that. I’ve seen girls teams link hands and start swinging them toward the end, which must offend traditionalists, or so you’d think. Atlanta Braves fans have amended the last line of the first verse to “And the home of the Braves!” North Dakota hockey fans amended the last line of the first verse to “And the home of the SOOOOOOOOOOO!” before the Boys Named Sioux were divested of their supposedly racist nickname.

Were these not affronts to the National Anthem as well?

(The last video is of the National Hockey League All-Star Game in Chicago during Operation Desert Storm. Notice few people are at attention or singing.)

Some people thought these were too:

It could even be claimed that singers who change the 3/4 Anthem into a 4/4 song (including, among others, Super Bowl singers Whitney Houston and Lady Gaga) are similarly disrespecting the Anthem. There are even those who assert that the Star Spangled Banner should not be the National Anthem because of, among other reasons, the difficulty of singing it.

There is an obvious dividing line during my lifetime in attitudes about the Star Spangled Banner. The line was drawn first during Operation Desert Storm (when Whitney Houston sang arguably the most famous performance at Super Bowl XXV), and the line became a wall after 9/11. (It takes real nerve to protest your country on the anniversary of 9/11, which will be Sunday.)

The cynical note the hypocrisy of claims of oppression by someone getting paid more than $100 million to play professional sports, particularly someone being paid eight digits per year to sit on the bench. (Kaepernick is no longer the starting quarterback, and if anonymous quotes are to be believed he may never play for the 49ers or any other NFL team again, though he is officially the 49ers’ backup QB.)
Some Kaepernick supporters claim (based on two lines of a four-verse song) that the Star Spangled Banner is itself racist, which is a ridiculous assertion. (To wit: “No refuge could save the hireling and slave From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,” referring to slaves apparently impressed by the British during the beginning of the War of 1812.) That is as irrelevant, regardless of the level of veracity, as the Star Spangled Banner’s melody coming from a British drinking song.
More importantly, Kaepernick’s protest is based on a false premise, the supposed war on blacks by police. If anything, as scholar Heather Mac Donald points out, there is a war on police and, by the way, on inner-city minority residents by minority inner-city criminals:

Incarceration is not destroying the black family. Family breakdown is in fact the country’s most serious social problem, and it is most acute in black communities. But the black marriage rate was collapsing long before incarceration started rising at the end of the 1970s, as my colleague Kay Hymowitz has shown. Indeed, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan issued his prescient call for attention to black out-of-wedlock child-rearing in 1965, just as that era’s deincarceration and decriminalization movement was gaining speed.
It is crime, not incarceration, that squelches freedom and enterprise in urban areas. And there have been no more successful government programs for liberating inner-city residents from fear and disorder than proactive policing and the incapacitation of criminals. …
Violent crime is currently shooting up again in cities across the country. Police officers are backing away from proactive enforcement in response to the yearlong campaign that holds that police are the greatest threat facing young black men today. Officers encounter increasing hostility and resistance when they make a lawful arrest. With pedestrian stops, criminal summons, and arrests falling precipitously in urban areas, criminals are becoming emboldened.

That is what Kaepernick should be protesting, but of course that isn’t what he’s protesting. Of course, the First Amendment gives you the right to be wrong. The First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of your free expression.