Honor the Flag in Defence of Protest

As I walked to the coffee shop this morning I noticed a neighbor rolling out an American flag. He was no one I recognized, perhaps he’s new. But with all due respect I made eye contact with a smile. I gave him a friendly nod and said, “good morning”. He seemed to return my greeting with a note of caution and a mumbled “morning”, like a man anticipating an unwelcome confrontation. Without breaking stride I just kept walking and went about my business. As a journalist it’s my job to commit my thoughts and observations to paper in the hopes of putting them into contemporary context. In sharing these musings I hope that we can engage in a civil discussion on what our words and deeds mean in the grand scheme of modern society. There has been much controversy of late over the disposition of the American flag and this minor incident so close to home reflects a bit of the broader argument.

Only yesterday Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker drafted a letter to the National Football League demanding that it put an end to players kneeling in protest before games. “It is time for players in the NFL to stop protests during the anthem and move on from what has become a divisive political sideshow,” Governor Walker wrote in a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.” These comments echo thoughts shared recently by President Donald Trump, “It is about time that Roger Goodell of the NFL is finally demanding that all players STAND for our great National Anthem-RESPECT OUR COUNTRY,” tweeted Trump.

As much as I personally respect and revere the American flag I recognize that it is merely a symbol of the principles of freedom and liberty that make our nation great. Among those freedoms is the right to peacefully express both our reverence and outrage for the manner in which we are governed. Just as my neighbor has the right to demonstrate his patriotism by displaying the flag in front of his home, it is my right to take a knee or bow my head or even extend my middle finger in protest. That same right must be afforded as well to players in the NFL. No sitting governor or president should ever openly deny a person’s right to freely express themselves no matter how much they might disagree. It is these principles that so many of our people, citizens and soldiers alike, have fought and bleed and died to defend. Our failure to uphold these principles is a far greater insult to the flag than any football player kneeling in peaceful opposition.

If we truly want to honor the American flag, each of us must demand the equal treatment of every person under the law. We show respect for our country by respecting the rights of its citizens to enjoy the freedom and liberty to which we are all entitled. And we should welcome peaceful protest as an opportunity to begin a dialog dedicated to the resolution of disagreements, not a trigger to squash opposing points of view.

(update) It was brought to my attention that Roger Goodell did NOT demand that all players stand for the National Anthem as stated by President Trump. A statement issued today suggests that the league is prepared to work toward a compromise and not summarily deny their players’ right to protest. “Everyone who is part of our NFL community has a tremendous respect for our country, our flag, our anthem and our military,” the statement reads. “In the best American tradition, we are coming together to find common ground and commit to the hard work required for positive change.”


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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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