Nation’s flag, anthem deserve more respect

The National Football League, a beloved tradition in our nation, is suddenly caught in a maelstrom of controversy. It all centers around some players deciding to kneel, or sit, during the playing of the national anthem. They want to shine a light on what they describe as police brutality and the killing of unarmed black men. President Trump fanned the flames by criticizing the players’ decisions, suggesting they be fired. All hell has broken loose since.

The NFL is backing the players. Team owners are joining them in the protests. But many fans do not like this. They never wanted the sport to become political, nor did they ever approve of the players’ actions, or the players’ premise. (In reality, Trump’s comments echoed this, and did not start it.) And fans are starting to vote with their wallets, canceling season tickets and other spending on the NFL.

We would like to think that all of this could lead somewhere productive, but we doubt it will. Racial issues in America right now do not seem to be heading toward reality and rationality. All is emotion, fed by a sense of injustice on one side and growing disdain on the other, where many people feel the players cannot act righteous if they are actually wrong.

We have all been shocked by some police shootings we hear about, but most of us likewise recognize that these are distinct events, not a national conspiracy. Some shootings are justified, others too gray to be sure. Others, of course, are unjustified, and the police officers involved deserve punishment. Having a “feeling” that every shooting represents institutionalized racism is not the same thing as knowledge. Just as knee-jerk denial that some shootings could involve racism is not any more intelligent.

As for the NFL, it’s in trouble. At least right now. It has made a mistake by getting political. Responding to the President, it should simply have said that players may offer their protests without fear of being fired, but that America, despite its faults, is still an astonishing place that has allowed all of those players to enjoy wealth beyond the dreams of the ordinary citizens who watch the games.

In the end, our flag and our national anthem deserve respect, even from those who want to see changes in our nation. We’re sure most citizens want political change of one kind or another. The great thing about being an American is that we all participate in the process of implementing it. The flag and the anthem are symbols of this power and freedom. We believe they deserve one’s standing attention, with a hand over one’s heart.