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Why we stand for our flag

| Monday, September 18, 2017

We have just entered that glorious time of year when you can spend all hours of your weekend watching football. Gone is the need to invent excuses to procrastinate, that’s a non-football season problem. What’s more, the storylines continue from Sunday to Sunday. The NFL dominates sports news and even regular news. This we knew. What we didn’t know was that some players would take for granted the attention of millions of Americans in a way deeply antithetical to our national spirit. They would not stand in recognition of the flag during the national anthem.

It is indeed within these players’ First Amendment right to not stand for the American flag. I understand, for example, Colin Kaepernick’s decision to not stand for the flag. He knew that his platform was powerful and wide reaching, and that his actions would dominate the news cycle. But that assumes that the media would take the opportunity to thoughtfully discuss a significant issue, instead of fight for control of a narrative. Today’s media is not the best example of civic responsibility. For this reason, Kaepernick should have taken time outside of football to articulate an argument for, say, how the historical legacy of slavery still influences the economic and social mobility of African Americans. Such a statement would have also made its way onto the ticker tape at ESPN, not to mention CNN, Fox and others. But to argue that Kaepernick’s actions are acceptable in the context of the national anthem because he is simply exercising his right to free expression misses the point of why we encourage people to stand. To analogize, we encourage respectful language despite the fact that technically, you could speak in a disrespectful and offensive manner to anyone and at any time.

In the same way, we encourage actions befitting the national anthem’s occasion. We do not stand in recognition of the flag because we think America has fulfilled her lofty ideals. We do not stand in recognition of the flag because we are blind to the problems which plague our time. And we certainly do not stand in recognition of the flag for personal gain and attention. We stand because we feel a duty to remember those who have sacrificed for our nation. It is a testament to the brave men and women in uniform that we still enjoy freedoms such as speech and that we take for granted the ability to watch hours of football on Sundays. We stand because we recognize the great hope and optimism we can have as Americans. America is far from infallible, but the world is a better place because she exists. We stand because this hope draws its power from unifying occasions like the national anthem. There are few moments at which we can all come together, and these moments should not just be in times of crisis or tragedy. These moments are, and should be, during the sporting events we attend. We also remove our hats in the same way you would remove your hat in places of worship or at a funeral. As with faith and funerals, the occasion of the national anthem requires a high order of respect.

To capture the spirit of this column’s argument in a quote from Joshua, “I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.” Standing for the national anthem shows that we share values which transcend ourselves; that for all the disagreement and conflict, we can unite in remembrance and optimism for the future. If we do not stand to recognize the sacrifices of our honored dead and draw from this exercise unity and hope, we will have lost the spirit of our country. Indeed, we cannot overcome the challenges we now face without this understanding. We must stand for something so that we do not end up falling for nothing.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Nicholas Marr