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Tag Archives: Protest

Alejandro Villanueva Should Not Apologize

As a lot of people do, I have strong feelings about the whole “taking a knee” phenomenon going on in the NFL.  Started by Colin Kaepernick during the pre-season last year, it initially started as him sitting during the National Anthem.  He drew no attention to his actions, made no public statement, did nothing at all until somebody asked.

And all hell broke loose.

It makes no difference to me the political reasons for standing, sitting, kneeling, or napping during the National Anthem, I believe that peaceful protest is a fundamental part of the character of our nation. And each of us have the right to do so. There is no symbol that is greater than that right.

You all probably know what has happened in the last few days.  Trump tweeted. (I know, I was shocked too.) Trump’s tweet made things worse instead of better. (I know, I was shocked too.) And an uproar ensued. (I know, I was shocked too.)

The Pittsburgh Steelers was one of several teams that decided to remain in the locker room during the National Anthem. They described it as the best way to stay unified as a team and remove themselves from what had essentially become a political powder keg. I’m not sure that really makes sense, but okay. (Side note — I’m a lifelong Steelers fan, so accept that for whatever bias you want here.)

There was one exception to the Steelers’ decision. Alejandro Villaneuva, a graduate of U.S. Military Academy, played football for Army, served as an Army Ranger including three tours in Afghanistan. While the rest of his team stayed in the locker room, Villaneuva stood just outside the tunnel and held his hand over his heart during the National Anthem.

His coach expressed dismay at this, and today he has apologized for making his coach and teammates look bad.

No.

He didn’t make his teammates look bad.

Alejandro Villaneuva did the exact same thing his teammates and many others have demanded they have the right to do — to respond to the National Anthem as they see fit. Whether in “respect” for it, or as a means of protesting a larger issue.

There is nothing wrong with what Villanueva did and his decision should be respected and admired, just as much as those of us who support Kaepernick and the other protesters believe their actions should be respected.

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Kaep and the National Anthem

Before last night’s pre-season game between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers, Colin Kaapernick did not stand during the playing of the National Anthem.  He stated afterwards that he refused to “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

I’ve had a mixed history when it comes to our National Anthem.  First, that our National Anthem is about a war speaks to something embedded in our psyche that doesn’t speak to me.  I would much rather have our national song be something like America The Beautiful.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern impassion’d stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!

O beautiful for heroes proved In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved,
And mercy more than life!
America! America! May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev’ry gain divine!

O Beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam,
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

This speaks much more to the majesty of a country than does a tale of a tattered banner surviving a battle.

Second, I have had my times when I have struggled to stand for the National Anthem.  Times when I felt we were in the wrong and I felt my country was something other than what I imagined it could be.  Times during the Reagan presidency, when in my disgruntled youth, I attended baseball games and would rise but not place my hand over my heart.  Times in the early part of this century when we were destroying parts of the Middle East in misguided and illegal wars and torturing who knows how many people.  These were things my country was doing in my name and I couldn’t stand to be a part of it.

So, I get it, Mr. Kaepernick.  I really get it.  But I have a problem with your particular protest at this particular time in our nation’s history.  I will not deny that racism is alive and well in this country.  I will not deny that people of color and of less favored faiths continue to struggle for equality and fair treatment in many corners of our nation.  However …

In a time when our President is African-American, I simply cannot understand how you can think that “our country” continues to oppress black people.  Your refusal to stand for the National Anthem and your decision to call out the entire country for what you see as oppression of minorities is a generalized attack on all Americans.  It is an attack on me.  It is an attack on not just those who are involved in discrimination and oppression, but also those who fight it every day of their lives.  Because we are just as much a part of “our country” as the racists are.

Your protest, in tarring the entire country with the labels of oppression and racism is just as wrong as racial profiling by cops, different levels of force used against people of color as compared to white suspects, and the myriad forms in which racism exists.  We are not all racists and oppressors.  But you have just labeled us as such with your actions and particularly with your words.  Just as bad cops label any black male as a suspect.

Stand up for what you believe in, fight to save the oppressed and I will fight with you.  It’s time, however, to target the real oppressors, the real racists and not suggest with such blanket criticism that it is “the country,” that it is all of us.  It is not.  There are far more of us who support your objectives than who oppose them.

I’m guessing that the white couple that adopted you, took you in, raised you and provided you with the opportunities needed to become an NFL quarterback are the furthest thing from racists and oppressors.  But they are this country, too.  The flag and the anthem represents them just as much as it represents the oppressors.  Or at least it should.  If you can’t see that and stand for the National Anthem because of the good parts of our country that it represents, you should try a little harder.  There are other ways to attack the problem than to attack all of us.

[Edited to add:  Just to be clear, I am not denying that Kaepernick has the right to do this.  I firmly believe in the right of protesters to burn the flag, of a person’s right not to stand for the National Anthem, to speak publicly or privately their feelings about our country and the issues we face.  I just think that in this particular case, it was a misguided and somewhat ignorant act.]

[Edited to add yet more:  Over at Old Road Apples Junk Chuck just wrote about this also. He mentions a third reason I’ve struggled with the National Anthem tradition.  My general discomfort with mass oaths and mass allegiance statements.  It’s probably why, even if I ever change my mind about God, I won’t ever be a fan of organized religion.  Over the years, I have felt uncomfortable with the somewhat herd mentality of everybody rising, removing their hats, and covering their heart for the National Anthem.  There is something vaguely authoritarian and anti-democratic about the whole practice.  But lately, I have started having a different experience connected to the National Anthem.  In the good moments it is because I can look around me and see such a beautiful mix of people who are rising and showing their respect for something that isn’t material, isn’t technology, isn’t anything other than a statement that we, the masses gathered there (typically made up of every gender, every race, every everything) can stop everything else for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds and respect the same thing.]

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