Standing, kneeling, locking arms -- all are American

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Posted 9/26/17 (Tue)

Whines & Roses
By Cecile Wehrman

President Trump played to a base crowd when he spoke at an Alabama rally on Friday, calling protesting professional football players SOBs and demanding they be fired for refusing to honor the flag. 
In response, at every professional game played on Sunday, players, teams, coaches and, in some cases, owners answered: some took a knee like Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco quarterback who first ignited controversy last season by refusing to stand during the national anthem in protest to what he sees as state-sanctioned violence against people of color; others kneeled with hands -- or helmets -- over their hearts; some, like Minnesota Vikings players, locked arms in solidarity; still others chose not to enter the field at all until the anthem had concluded. And in every case, what those players affirmed is the right of every citizen, not only to have an opinion, but to express it peacefully. 
And it was so fitting because the freedom of speech is as American as apple pie -- as American as “America’s game.”
What better place to take a stand -- or not -- than with millions upon millions of citizens from all walks of life, watching?
When the Kaepernick controversy first erupted last year, my initial reaction was something along the lines of, “Oh great! Another spoiled rich athlete/entertainer using his position to generate publicity for his pet cause.” As an employer, I also empathized with NFL owners who made statements indicating they’d fire any player who followed Kaepernick’s lead. It bothered me, because while I work in a business dependent on freedom of speech, it also irks me to think of having to uphold that freedom -- on my dime -- whether or not  I agree with the stand being taken.
Today, I feel differently than a few months ago. And if my feelings on this issue can evolve, I’m hopeful people, who, like me, once had no sympathy for Kaepernick’s demonstration can at least staunchly defend his right to make it. This issue ought not be about who can demonstrate they’re more offended, but about understanding the reasons for a protest like Kaepernick’s. I respect greatly the fact that a man with everything to lose by speaking out, did so, in defense of people who don’t have a platform wide enough to call attention to their plight.
Kaepernick’s actions also demonstrate the power of one person willing to stake out an unpopular position to try to affect social change. Whether you agree with Kaepernick’s protest or not, there’s nothing more patriotic than respecting his right to make it.
People weren’t kneeling last weekend because they necessarily agree with Kaepernick. They were kneeling in defense of the First Amendment.
Soldiers don’t fight to defend our flag -- they fight to defend the freedoms laid out in our Constitution -- a Constitution Trump has also sworn to defend. His call for punishment of football players protesting for a cause may have played well in front of a base crowd in Alabama, but it backfired. By trying to silence the people who play “America’s game” Trump forced players, coaches, owners -- and most importantly -- fans, to confront some of the most sacred of our American ideals -- that all men are created equal -- and that no citizen should be silenced simply because we disagree with them.
In my research of this issue, I was surprised to learn that having players on the field for the National anthem at all is a relatively recent occurrence -- dating back only to 2009. Prior to that, the National anthem typically was not televised at all because it involved only fans -- not players. 
Now that literally everyone on Facebook has expressed their own opinion on this issue, I wonder where do we go from here?
Are we going to keep on letting ourselves be divided by issues like this? Are we going to demand people stop wearing flag apparel? Or that they stop talking at local sporting events while the anthem is played?
Meanwhile, on football fields all across North Dakota in the coming weeks, young players will be taking to the field. 
Thankfully, few in our area have experienced racism or discrimination of any kind. But I hope they are learning some valuable lessons from their professional football heroes -- that some ideals are worth taking a stand on, even if that means not standing up during the National anthem.