By Danny Stout
Recently, San Francisco Forty-Niner Colin Kapernack, refused to stand for the National Anthem before a National Football League (NFL) game. Rebuking this public display of patriotism, Kapernack was immediately on the news agenda, earning attention from the New York Times, CNN, The Huffington Post, and the New York Times. Failing to stand for the anthem, salute the flag, or in rarer cases actually burning the flag, are not new in U.S. history of protest. What’s perplexing is the frenzied scrambling to cover the story, as if it’s never been seen.
Suffice it to say that eschewing civil rituals is newsworthy, given that it weighs values of patriotism against free speech. For example, a constitutional amendment prohibiting flag-burning is proposed intermittently. Unfortunately, coverage has been incendiary in tone; the goal of the media establishment seems to be about high ratings, rather than the underlying social problems underlying Kapernack’s action. With less emphasis on the political issues themselves, an opportunity for real public discussions slips through our fingers.
Giving the cold shoulder to the anthem was particular salient in the 1960’s, ignited by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City when they raised their fisted black gloves to the flag in support of civil rights. Not long after the Newark, NJ riots, many African-American students refused to salute the flag. When other students used the flag for a table cloth, arguments broke out in the cafeteria.
Such demonstrations are reflections of our times, and uncover salient dilemmas. A barometer of unrest so to speak. We ignore these roots of discontent at our peril. Thus, President Obama said almost off-handedly, Kapernack was simply trying to say something. How many, regardless of their political persuasion, are listening?