I wish I was able to use this space to write solely about the Cleveland Browns game and offer some thoughts about what I had seen during the game, which had been a fun exercise the first two weeks despite the outcome of those contests not being favorable. Instead, the broken world with which we all live within has pushed its way to the forefront and needs some attention.
My views on both kneeling during the National Anthem and many of those who oppose it is rather neutral as my support of the First Amendment1 of the United States Constitution is firm. I believe it extends beyond the reach of Congress creating laws as it is a keystone principle of the American philosophy without which we have failed as a country and society.
The rhetoric and actions of this past weekend have reminded me of the words of David Cole, legal director of the ACLU, in the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville with calls wide-ranging for the organization to halt their defense of groups- and other more radical suggestions that suppression of speech can be beneficial to our society. Please read the entire article as there is important nuance throughout, but the kicker sums up the viewpoint with which I heartily stand and applaud.
In a fundamental sense, the First Amendment safeguards not only the American experiment in democratic pluralism, but everything the ACLU does. In the pursuit of liberty and justice, we associate, advocate, and petition the government. We protect the First Amendment not only because it is the lifeblood of democracy and an indispensable element of freedom, but because it is the guarantor of civil society itself. It protects the press, the academy, religion, political parties, and nonprofit associations like ours. In the era of Donald Trump, the importance of preserving these avenues for advancing justice and preserving democracy should be more evident than ever.
My support of this freedom means to support those who peaceably assemble regardless of agreement or disagreement with their methods or even cause. The idea behind a protest is to gain attention to an issue the participants feel is neglected. To do so peacefully should be welcome.
In the case of kneeling during the National Anthem, there can be no doubt the assemblies have both been peaceful and have garnered attention. As a result, there has been far more discussion on a local and national level around the tensions between the African American community and police. Having the attention create a difference through actions and discussions is still in the infancy with an unknown long-term outlook.
Less players would have knelt during this past weekend without the vile words coming from President Donald Trump. His usage of twitter to attack those who protested and call for them to be fired, while using the terminology S.O.Bs (but spelt out) is unbecoming for the President of the United States of America. Some have used his delayed and neutered response towards Charlottesville Nazis paired with these statements to connect the dots to what Jemele Hill had stated.2
The strong responses from the NFL, NFLPA, and others alongside the actions of escalation both in kneeling and in opposition of it were entirely predictable. Either President Trump is an idiot, wanted the escalation, or did not care. His narcissistic attitude towards all things has created an atmosphere were even items that should be easy are difficult. It has served as a wedge in our national conversation.
One reason for the divisiveness on this particular topic is there is a flashpoint in the protest around the National Anthem. There are even tangents of these debates to remove the National Anthem from sporting events entirely. Nationalism is becoming a dirty word in some circles despite the important element of human nature it holds.
People are tribal by nature. If a Clevelander is in Texas or California or Florida and sees someone wearing a something from a Northeast Ohio sport team, a quick nod or conversation will likely follow. There are many who have a similar association with the National Anthem before sporting events. A way to remind us that before we oppose each other in this entertainment venture, let us remember that we are united in a far more serious and important manner. Despite all of the flaws within our country, we are still one community under that flag.
The National Anthem itself began making regular appearances at MLB games almost 100 years ago. ESPN the Magazine ran an article that demonstrated the importance of it through the years from the first World War through the aftermath of 9-11. Here is the passage of how the Star Spangled Banner became tied to sports in America.
Upon hearing the opening notes of Key’s song from the military band, Thomas immediately faced the flag and snapped to attention with a military salute. The other players on the field followed suit, in “civilian” fashion, meaning they stood and put their right hands over their hearts. The crowd, already standing, showed its first real signs of life all day, joining in a spontaneous sing-along, haltingly at first, then finishing with flair. The scene made such an impression that The New York Times opened its recap of the game not with a description of the action on the field but with an account of the impromptu singing: “First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day’s enthusiasm.”
Our country has overcome far worse moments in its history. There is a great opportunity in our country for a leader to emerge. Someone who can help remind us our first step in a conversation can be to listen rather than disparage. Someone who can help heal and unite- from which we can bring true change. Until then, we would all do well to heed the words of wisdom from Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin and Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona.3
Statement from Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin. Maybe my favorite response thus far. pic.twitter.com/MpH2Y1dC44
— Dave Zirin (@EdgeofSports) September 23, 2017
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) September 24, 2017
- WFNY’s Kyle Welch wrote an excellent article explaining in-depth the importance of the First Amendment and the relevant historical cases. Please do give it a read. [↩]
- Quick aside: as noted by the ACLU legal director, employers have the one area where free speech can be tricky and allowable to have stricter rules. The important thing is for an employer to ensure the rules are applied fairly and evenly to all. In Hill’s case, she clearly violated the protocol her employer had sent out. She was not suspended while others who had a view on the other side of the political spectrum were suspended on first offenses (in Schilling’s case, fired on his second reported offense). It is a bad look for ESPN as it gives the appearance of specific speech suppression. [↩]
- Luke 6:33 is a fantastic representation of the same. “If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.” [↩]