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United We Stand... Or Don't

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Eric Zorn, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, wrote the article “Refusing to stand for the national anthem is also a patriotic act” in which he addressed professional athletes choosing to kneel during the pre-game ritual. He first makes the point that those of us who don’t rise when we hear the national anthem at home, in the car, or wherever we may be, but criticize the players who kneel during it, are hypocritical. Zorn says that the playing of the national anthem is merely a representation of our unity in support of “America’s supreme values – liberty, opportunity, justice” regardless of what is going on in the government. He adds that suggesting it has anything to do with a person’s support of the military, police force, or specific Washington leaders is “asking for trouble.”

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The foundation of this article is the irony that the way these athletes are choosing to protest is actually an authentic depiction of the freedom we are privileged with as American citizens, whereas conforming to the beliefs of others and rising when you aren’t in agreement is absolutely un-American. He concluded by saying that President Trump is merely trying to wedge more division in our society by making the controversy a matter of partisan when patriotism is absolutely an attitude, not an act.

There are many points that Zorn made that I can stand behind in support, but there are a few directions he went that may have been reaching too far. For example, he said the practice of standing for the national anthem at home “seems a little obsessive and weird,” and continues on to compare it to stopping in the middle of the sidewalk to say the pledge of allegiance anytime a person sees the American flag. Claiming a person who chooses to stand during the national anthem at home is “obsessive and weird” is disrespecting the way that person personally chooses to display patriotism. The comparison to stop at every American flag for the pledge is an irrational comparison to what is essentially a respectful formality. I do agree, however, that the very act of kneeling during “The Star Spangled Banner” is a representation of the liberties America was founded on. The reality that a person with so many eyes on them, like a professional athlete, has the courage to advocate for what they believe in and know it is the unpopular opinion, is something I find extremely admirable. There are people bashing them on all social media platforms, burning their jerseys, making threats, and boycotting the sport altogether for allowing them to take a knee. What those people lashing out are not recognizing is that our country was founded solely for the purpose of legally believing as individuals without being reprimanded. The struggle with this issue is that it is entirely subjective. What the American flag means to a person totally determines how they feel towards the act of taking a knee. For instance, the granddaughter of an Army veteran that died in Vietnam might feel a strong association between the national anthem and the military. Therefore, she may feel as if kneeling during the anthem is disrespecting the military and her grandfather. The son of a police officer might feel offended on behalf of his loved one. If an NFL player is passionate about who is elected into the Presidential office and strongly disagrees with the policies or personality that President uses to represent the American people, they might associate the national anthem with that person in office.

Although that ballad of independence might mean different things to different people, those words and waving stars and stripes ultimately represent freedom. The challenge that comes with that freedom is that it requires people to have an open mind and empathize with others or agree to disagree. That is a small sacrifice to make for such a large privilege. Whether a person chooses to stand during “The Star Spangled Banner” or to kneel in protest, Americans are all united by the freedom of that choice that others lost their lives to attain.

03 December 2019

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