Kneeling during the anthem isn't disrespectful. It sends a powerful message

Wednesday , September 27, 2017 - 5:00 AM11 comments

DON PORTER, special to the Standard-Examiner

What I don’t understand is, “Why?” Why would the president of the United States follow up his abysmal performance in the wake of Charlottesville with an attack on NFL players, mostly African-American, who have been “taking a knee” during the national anthem?

My 23-month-old grandson knows better than to stick his finger into a light socket again after being burned the first time. But the leader of the free world doesn’t?

This whole kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner” started about a year ago, when second-string San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick – unemployed, as of this writing – began kneeling during the anthem to call attention to the treatment of African-Americans by police. My complaint at the time was about Kaepernick’s protests not being specific enough. To wit: Was he protesting all police-involved shootings of black Americans? If so, that’s too broad a brush to be using, since some shootings are entirely justified.

My guess is Trump was looking for an applause line during his speech in Alabama. And after he got it, he kept piling on. Pretty soon he was calling players who kneeled SOBs and saying they should be fired.

It was, in my view, silly and unnecessary. Indeed, the thing Kaepernick started, which had been emulated by some players for about a year before Trump weighed in, was about as inoffensive as it could be. He didn’t turn his back on the flag. He just took a knee. It was not disrespectful of the flag or the anthem.

Rather, it was his way, if I understood his comments after he began doing it, of reminding fellow Americans that to be black in this country could be hazardous to your health vis-à-vis your interactions with some police officers.

The thing I don’t understand is why so many Americans are losing their cool and filling Facebook with “I stand” memes in response to athletes taking a knee but, as far as I can tell, haven’t posted any sort of criticism about, say, police officers choking to death a black man selling untaxed cigarettes or myriad videos of unarmed black men being shot by police.

It’s extraordinary. And it’s revealing of their views regarding race in America.

Thinking back over my life, I recall a moment of ill-conceived protest during the war in Vietnam. I was a junior high brat living in Wyoming’s Big Horn Basin who sewed an American flag patch on the seat of my Levis. I had been watching a lot of TV news about the war, reading about it in magazines like Life and Time, and decided the conflict was tarnishing our national image and character. I wasn’t articulate enough in 1972 to make my thoughts known; the flag patch in that location was my way of making public my thoughts.

It had been there for a couple of weeks when my mother quietly said to me one day, “Son, your father is offended by the flag patch on your jeans. You know he served in the Marine Corps and doesn’t appreciate such disrespect. He won’t make you do it, but I’m asking you to take it off.”

I did. Immediately. I’ve kept that patch all these years to remind me of that day when I went too far. It’s tucked away in a drawer, but I see it from time to time and remember it’s easy to attack an issue in the wrong way – so much so that your message gets lost.

I do not think taking a knee during the anthem is going too far. I do not believe it is disrespectful, as was my childish protest.

As one commentator said last weekend, these acts of quiet, non-violent demonstration are an effort to remind Americans – both in and out of government – that this country is better when all are held to the same standard of justice. Almost all situations involving police and black Americans are handled professionally and perhaps even courteously because most U.S. police officers are fair, respectful and doing their jobs the way they have been trained.

An extremely narrow sliver of officers make mistakes, react too quickly or, let’s admit, are racially biased. Those are the cases, and the officers, being singled out via taking a knee. The players are asking the nation to be better. To pay attention. To demand equal justice under the law.

Let them exercise their First Amendment rights. It’s the American thing to do.

You can email Don at dportercolumn@hotmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DonPondorter.

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