By Eric Marturano and Josh Hammond
Alert: this is a long one, half a beer’s worth. It’s about another made-in-America problem. Other countries don’t have this issue. Patriotism and sports are not confused. Each has its own domain. America is the exception.
First the context.
There are at least three definitions of patriotism. Actually, three definitions of nationalism: the two terms are often confused—on purpose it seems. During World War II patriotism got its wings, but they have been clipped lately. During the war, soldiers in Japan were asked why they were fighting? The answer was instantaneous: “The Emperor.” The German soldiers emphatically said: “The Fatherland.” The Americans said: “ah…ah…my friends in the foxhole, ah…the Four Freedoms.” It turns out that Japanese and German soldiers were indoctrinated in patriotism/nationalism as part of their training. American soldiers got a lecture on the FDR’s “Four Freedoms” and not much more. In President Roosevelt’s words, America was fighting for the higher ideal, something beyond patriotism or nationalism—”the supremacy of human rights everywhere.”
To most of us patriotism is a complex intersection of culture and politics. Of white over black. Of red, white and blue over a green commercial private field where profit is the motive and whatever enhances profit is by definition “patriotic”.
First some comments about the National Anthem and the American Flag. Then some comments about the silliness of this whole NFL kerfuffle, a word easily mispronounced in a bar or locker room.
Don’t tell our Tweeter-in-Chief, but the melody Francis Scott Key assigned to the lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a popular English drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” It was written around 1775 by John Stafford Smith. According to the Smithsonian, “the song honored the ancient Greek poet Anacreon, a lover of wine. It was originally performed at a London gentleman’s music club called the Anacreontic Society.”
Most of us know the words to the first stanza. Bill Clinton is one of the few who knows all the words to the entire song, all four stanzas. Sung, not exhaled. Those who have studied these stanzas see the hidden racist history of the National Anthem, buried down toward the end.
Second, calling the wrong plays.
This public stew is not just about the anthem, but also about the flag, a flag that has undergone more changes than new-born quintuplets on their first day in the crib. The American flag is a work in progress flown as a symbol of a country as a work in progress.
The 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights states the following:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Exercising a right provided by the United States Constitution is patriotic.
In 2016, Colin Kapernick decided to kneel during the playing of the national anthem in order to make a point that he was “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” To Kapernick, in his words, “this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people…getting away with murder.”
Exercising a right provided by the Constitution in order to draw attention to a problem plaguing America is very patriotic.
Kapernick’s team at the time, the San Francisco 49ers, issued a statement of support, saying: “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”
“Respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression” and “recognizing the right of an individual to choose and participate, or not”—sounds patriotic to me!
That was then—August 2016.
In May 2018, the definition of patriotism seems to have changed—can’t imagine why—and, accordingly, those who choose to display patriotism, whatever it is, appear to have changed their attitude towards it.
After two full NFL seasons of protests, public reactions, presidential tweets, vice-presidential stunts and walk-outs, the league issued a rule change.
The new rule is: “This season, all league and team personnel shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem. Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room until after the anthem has been performed.” ICE personnel will be inspecting papers; doctors will be certifying any claims of diarrhea; tech volunteers from the vigilantes will be combing social media posts for past indiscretions.
To avoid confusion (more), there are six points the owners wanted to make. Feels like a misdirection, but nonetheless:
- All team and league personnel on the field shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
- The Game Operations Manual will be revised to remove the requirement that all players be on the field for the anthem.
- Personnel who choose not to stand for the anthem may stay in the locker room or in a similar location off the field until after the anthem has been performed.
- A club will be fined by the League if its personnel are on the field and do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
- Each club may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles, regarding its personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem
- The commissioner will impose appropriate discipline on league personnel who do not stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.
Got all that?!
At least one observer that lives in the White House didn’t: he wasn’t happy and added a new twist—questioning if those players who refuse to kneel should even be in the country. Luckily the First Amendment is a lot harder to change than a few NFL rules.
Placing itemized restrictions on expression of ideas seems to be a new definition of patriotism and a questionable restriction on free speech. In other words: unconstitutional.
Jed York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers—Kapernick’s former team—was a notable abstainer from the owners’ vote on this restrictive rule. In reference to the fines levied against those violating the rule, York commented, “I don’t think we should be profiting if we’re going to put this type of attention and focus on the field and on the flag.”
Well at least not profiting from the American flag seems to be a new definition of patriotism. That sounds pretty good I guess…right?
Curiously, in this newly defined patriotism, you can buy the “San Francisco 49ers WinCraft 3′ x 5′ Americana Stars & Stripes Deluxe Flag” for $39.99.
Eric and his pals on their sports podcast don’t discuss this issue because “it’s the most tiringly stupid conversation.” He wrote most of this post and concludes by saying: “Forget about discussing problems in our country, my fellow patriots.”
“And forget about expressing ideas freely and openly.”
“In fact, just shut up entirely—we have flags to sell!”
Editor’s Note: Does this post violate our commitment to being a Trump-free Zone? No. The zone only applies to his tweets. He has made this as public statement at a political rally in Alabama and he has repeated it multiple times since. He’s not finished calling racial plays.
It’s fourth and inches.
Update: June 5, 2018 Fox News, the White House Television Network “confuses” Eagle players praying before a game with charges that they were kneeling in disrespect of the flag: kneeling is a tricky word.
Richie Havens at Woodstock