If you read this blog with any sort of regularity, and by now you definitely should be, you know that I played sports for practically my entire childhood and until I graduated from college. I played tennis through college, ran track until I got to college and played soccer up until I got to high school. Last week, Megan Rapinoe, women from the Indiana Fever and Phoenix Mercury and other women in sports took knees during the National Anthem in protest of racial injustices in the United States. Watching these women and reading the comments sections (note to reader: never read the comments section) under articles about these women took me back to the days where my athletic prowess was on fleek. What dawned on me was that I don’t ever remember having the National Anthem played or flag raised at any of my events. Now maybe my 32-year-old mind is leaving out an occasional occurrence, but I can say with absolute certainty that it was nowhere near routine for the National Anthem to be played or flag to be acknowledged at the tennis matches, track meets or soccer games that I played in from my childhood to early adulthood. But the way Americans have reacted to a handful of athletes kneeling for the Anthem suggests that reverence for Old Glory before sporting events is a time-honored, almost mandatory tradition. So how was I robbed of such a large part of American culture for so long?
You could conclude that this phenomenon (my sporting events being devoid of the Anthem and the flag) was a product of the size and nature of the Local, Regional, State, Conference, and National Championships that I played in. Maybe there was just no time or means to raise the flag and pledge allegiance to it and America at National Championship tennis tournaments or track meets…
Maybe people who play soccer and throw the shot put are less patriotic than people who play basketball and football.
And maybe not. My own experience and the experiences and reactions of others tells me that this is less of an issue of what sports I played and more of an issue of America’s inconsistency with its own patriotism.
Americans aren’t always patriotic and they aren’t patriotic in the same ways. They are a confusing bunch, picking and choosing when and how it’s convenient to show their patriotism and love for country. Don’t believe me, juh’ watch. Look at voting. In 2012, about 54% of eligible Americans voted in the Presidential election. Recent voter turnouts in other developed countries like Australia, Belgium, Turkey and Sweden all had the participation of WELL over 80% of their eligible voters. But in August, America ripped Gabby Douglas a new one for not placing her hand over her heart during an Olympic medal ceremony. So Americans are adamant and patriotic about standing for their flag but disinterested in who runs the country they are so patriotic about. Gotcha. Here’s another one. Americans celebrate Patrick Henry’s war cry of “Give me liberty or give me death,” as a call of patriotism. His words swayed colonists to proceed to war with Great Britain rather than flee the New World or be subject to an unjust government. In other words, our country was founded on protest. But when Colin Kaepernick and others kneel in protest against an unjust criminal justice system, Americans tell their fellow countrymen to leave or just be grateful to be here. And I have one more, about 15% of veteran households receive assistance from the charitable food network (i.e. food banks and shelters) and on any given night about 50,000 of veterans are homeless. Simultaneously, Americans have said loudly and proudly that exercising the First Amendment at football, basketball and soccer games is disrespectful to veterans. I get it now, you’re patriotic when you allow millions of veterans to struggle to take care of themselves and their families, but unpatriotic if you exercise the rights the veterans sacrificed their lives for.
Because America is so sporadic and unintentional with its patriotism, I can only come to one conclusion: The anger towards the male and female athletes who protest by kneeling during the National Anthem has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with maintaining the status quo. The status quo in America is that black and brown people don’t have a fair shake in the justice system. They have disproportionate encounters with police which lead to disproportionate numbers of arrests and incarcerations even though statistics show that they have no more criminally inclined than white people. The status quo in America is that women are paid less money for doing the exact same work that men do even though the burden of childcare falls on those same women. The status quo is that corporations are content with pillaging our environmental resources in exchange for the dolla, dolla bill y’all.
How can so many Americans be satisfied with the status quo? In short, they’re winning. Most Americans don’t see their sons and daughters ripped from their homes; most earn comfortable pay checks and are routinely promoted for the work they do; oh, and most are grateful that gas prices are fairly low. So it’s easy for those people to exercise blind patriotism in the form of standing for a flag. But real patriotism isn’t about maintaining a status quo that disadvantages some. Genuine patriotism understands that this country is genuinely plentiful so that there is enough room and enough resources to give everyone a fair chance at the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness regardless of their race, religion, sex, sexual preference, disability or national origin. Genuine patriotism isn’t making people shut up or leave when they are disgruntled with their government. It’s listening to one another and helping to spread the wealth that this country has. I think this country needs to focus more on genuine patriotism and less on who’s standing and signing when the Anthem is played.
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