I’ve been reading about athletes and cheerleaders taking a knee during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at ballgames.
Up front, I have to say I’m not a sports fan. I don’t watch games on TV and go to see athletes in motion only if I know them personally. So, ordinarily, I wouldn’t care much what happened in a stadium on game day.
As I have read about taking a knee – a practice which began with Colin Kaepernick when he was with the San Francisco 49ers – I’ve reached the conclusion that this is one of those events in our nation that has a lot of heat surrounding it and not much light.
Visceral, angry reactions on both sides have led to draconian lines drawn in the sand – or the AstroTurf.
I am troubled by our national tendency not to talk to each other. By that I mean, people of different backgrounds and with different opinions talking and really listening to each other.
Social media has a tendency to put people into silos where we can add “me, too” to the comment of someone who thinks as we do – and then pretend we have had some interaction on a hotly debated topic.
Kaepernick began taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest the treatment of African-Americans in our society. I have read – from critics of taking a knee – that the kneeling crowd are dissing military service members or the historic sacrifices the flag represents.
I haven’t read anyone who is kneeling who said anything negative about the soldiers who are putting their lives on the line or who are attacking the underpinnings of American freedom.
They are talking about Philando Castile, shot to death in his car last year in Minnesota, about the fact the black parents have to have a conversation to their sons about what to do when they are stopped by the police while driving, about white supremacists emboldened to claim to take back a country which rightly belongs to people of lots of different colors.
I understand those who see the kneeling action as a disrespect to the flag or the country. A pause for reflection and a bit more conversation about why Kaepernick and so many others feel as they do might be helpful.
I’ve read the “they’re millionaires – what are they complaining about” posts, but I am aware that football players are not trust fund babies. They are athletes who come from ordinary families in towns across America.
If they are African-American, they have family members who likely are not insulated from prejudice because they have a wealthy nephew or cousin.
I also feel sure that many black athletes have close relatives or friends who are veterans – men and women who have served America with dedication. I doubt seriously that they are making light of their loved one’s service to the cause of freedom.
I do think they believe that freedom should be shared by all Americans and that they are concerned about a worrisome political atmosphere.
The flag does stand for freedom. We are free to stand and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” or to kneel instead. We are free to speak out about how we feel, to write a letter to the editor, to join a group trying to make a difference, to try to help America live up to its promise.
We also are free also to look the other way and do nothing.
For the moment, just take a deep breath. That sweet smell is the fragrance of freedom – freedom for us all.
Winston Skinner is the news editor of The Newnan Times-Herald.