ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.
“An’ I don’t mind ’em switchin’ sides,
An’ standin’ up for things they believe in.
When they’re runnin’ down my country, man,
They’re walkin’ on the fightin’ side of me.” — Merle Haggard, 1970, “The Fightin’ Side of Me.”
“You’re free to speak your mind my friend. As long as you agree with me.
Don’t criticize the father land. Or those who shape your destiny.
Cause if you do You’ll lose your job your mind and all the friends you knew
We’ll send out all our boys in blue They’ll find a way to silence you.” — Steppenwolf, 1967, “The Ostrich.”
The most serious casualty in this horribly overhyped controversy about athletes protesting during the playing of the national anthem is freedom of speech.
As a wide-eyed youngster and countless times since, I was taught the biggest difference between our republic or democracy and totalitarian regimes is that we enjoy freedoms, and arguably the most important is freedom of speech.
Yet too often when I see people exercising that precious freedom we supposedly are afforded, they are excoriated by their peers, their workplace superiors, the masses of common folks and most importantly, the President of the United States.
The free speech issue has been deliberately hijacked by President Donald Trump to score political points with his supporters. He has skillfully and successfully turned it into patriotic propaganda not worthy of his office. And once again, he’s proving he is a divider, not a uniter.
This whole spectacle started a little more than a year ago when San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick did not stand for the playing of the national anthem before an exhibition game and instead sat on a bench. Few took notice.
Kaepernick decided to make a political statement, not against the flag, the military or the national anthem, but against what he has seen as an alarming number of unarmed young black men being shot and killed by police.
Not long afterward, NFL player and armed services veteran Nate Boyer persuaded Kaepernick instead to take a knee out of respect for the flag and the anthem. Taking a knee is what players often do as a courtesy when one of them, regardless of who he plays for, is injured on the field of battle.
Yet taking a knee now has become regarded as the equivalent of disrespect for our country, our flag and our national anthem.
I have always stood for the national anthem and stood with my hand over my heart for the Pledge of Allegiance. For me, it’s very simply showing good manners in public. Those who don’t are guilty of bad manners, but they shouldn’t be arrested or fired.
Though I disagree with those who remain seated or take a knee, I strongly believe they have a right in a free country to do so. If you don’t have the freedom to offend, you don’t have freedom of speech. And don’t tell me about the NFL rule that was instituted in 2009 for all players during the anthem. It was a five million dollar payoff to the NFL by the military to make patriotism very public.
But freedom of speech also applies to Alejandro Villanueva, the Pittsburgh Steeler who refused to remain in the locker room and stood at attention to sing the national anthem. Coach Mike Tomlin was wrong to call him out for expressing his opinion.
This also applies to Michigan State Police Director Col. Etue, who called protesting athletes “degenerates.” She should not have to resign for publicly expressing her personal opinion.
But don’t forget it applies to Kaepernick and those who showed him solidarity.
Though perhaps we must be careful about protecting all speech, if we don’t respect the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, we are indeed doomed as a republic.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter not long ago asserted we are no longer a democratic republic, but rather an oligarchy Perhaps he is right, and we should never forget warnings from long ago that people in a democratic society eventually will vote away all of their freedoms.