President Trump did us all a great favor when he drew the nation’s attention to the flag of the United States of America, the inspirational symbol of “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In a speech two weeks ago, the president expressed the just and righteous anger of millions of Americans that the flag was being dishonored by highly paid athletes every Sunday — supposed role models teaching America’s youth that they need not pay respect to the flag, nor (as the Pledge of Allegiance puts it) “the republic for which it stands.”
Those NFL football players, in ever-increasing numbers, were refusing to stand for the national anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” at the beginning of games. The reputed justification for their show of disrespect is that they were protesting what they perceived to be unfair treatment of blacks by our nation’s police.
Whether you agree with the premise that racism has made innocent blacks targets for police shootings and harassment is irrelevant. No one has argued that the United States of America is a perfect nation. Racism is a shameful part of our heritage and cannot be excused or excised from our minds, but it does not define us. Nor is it the only part of our national heritage worthy of criticism.
But finding fault with particular people, policies or events within our broad borders is no excuse for turning your back on our flag, kneeling in silent protest of it, or linking your arms together as if you needed to build a wall to protect yourself from the red, white and blue.
Nor do you have a First Amendment right to free speech while on the job. Your boss has the right to direct your speech, and to limit it in any way necessary to accomplish the employer’s goals. If you don’t believe that, then try standing up on your desk Monday morning and exhorting your colleagues to walk out as a symbol of solidarity with the protesting NFL players!
The First Amendment only prevents government from restricting your speech. In fact, as others have pointed out, the ill-named National Football League has its own extensive rules spelling out how players are to respect the flag and the national anthem. Kneeling and locking arms are not included as acceptable behavior.
The NFL Game Operations Manual says that “all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem.”
It further dictates that, “During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition.”
If teams don’t get their players on the field for the anthem, they are warned that the lapse “may result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”
Most importantly, the manual states, “It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country.”
Well, duh! Apparently even Commissioner Roger Goodell and the team owners knew that it’s not a good idea to thumb your nose at the American people — or the American flag!
If citizenship means anything, then it is incumbent upon all of us who live in this country to love it, to cherish it and to respect it. And yes, that goes for the flag, too. It wasn’t the president who was being divisive by defending the flag; it was those players and team owners who decided that politics was more important than love of country.
Sadly, we live in an America so corrupted by selfishness that the idea of national solidarity is a foreign concept. Indeed, fear of where we are headed as a nation was in large part the explanation for why Donald Trump was elected president in the first place.
In his inaugural address, Trump told the world that, “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”
This was not — as the mainstream media and their friends in Hollywood and the NFL proclaim — a racist sentiment. It was rather a yearning for national unity, where identity politics was shoved back into its Pandora’s box, and we became committed to each other’s dreams rather than to our own selfish needs. As Trump himself said, “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.”
President Trump’s inaugural address actually provides the remedy for the NFL calamity, if only people on the left would open their ears to hear: “We must speak our minds openly, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”
It is not by coincidence that Trump also reminded us at the start of his term that the flag is not for one state, one race or one cause:
“It is time to remember that old wisdom our soldiers will never forget: That whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag.”
What other flag would these NFL players rather salute? What other nation would they rather live in? Where else could they have the opportunities they have been afforded?
The answer is obvious. The silence is deafening.
• Send your letters to the editor on this topic to me at email@example.com and I will run them in an upcoming issue.
Frank Miele is managing editor of the Daily Inter Lake in Kalispell, Montana. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The text of this column was updated to correct a quote fro the Pledge of Allegiance.