Whether I’m at a high school soccer game, a civic event or an NFL football game, I stand when the national anthem is played, face the flag and place my hand over my heart. I don’t do it because I’m forced to or because I fear fines or penalties. I do it because I choose to. Why?

  • Because I still believe that flag is an icon of democracy, even if it is often hijacked by the new American oligarchy/corporatocracy. I believe that flag represents the many, not just the few at the top.
  • Because I believe in freedom — not just for the horribly oppressed straight white Christian male but for Americans of all races, genders, class, religion choice, sexual orientation, et al. I know it’s getting to where folks want to pass religious liberty bills because you can hardly discriminate against anybody anymore, but I’m siding with freedom over the haters. They do have flags more appropriate for haters. (Scroll a little, and you’ll see it.)
  • Because I believe in what America should be still can be, although that faith may be a little shaken these days.
  • And because even though my World War II veteran grandfather who lost both legs fighting Nazis in North Africa died back in 1981, I still fear that if I don’t stand up, he’d somehow make it so that I sure as hell couldn’t sit down again — just as he would have then.

As an American, I defend both the right of the players to kneel if they see fit and the right of the NFL to throw a penalty on them if they wish. Unfortunately, the issue upon which the players were trying to shed a light has been drowned out by the protest itself. For that reason alone, I’d end these specific means of protest and shed a light on the issue in another way. Had they made it a one-time protest that produced shock and awe and then left the scene, the point might have stayed alive. Instead, it has just become a tired discussion of the method.

Ironically, many of the folks around me down South who slam these NFL players and vow to boycott the league seem to have fond views of the Confederate battle flag. I mean, c’mon, choose a side already. If you’re standing at the ice cream machine, you gotta pick chocolate or vanilla — swirling is just wrong.  President Trump recently praised NASCAR as a sports league that stands for the American flag, but you’ll also see more rebel flags there, too. Apparently Trump likes flexible loyalty more than American patriotism. Still, if the rebel flag wavers want to boycott the NFL over the kneelers, that frees up a seat for me at the game, so I’m fine with it. Boycott away.

But if you do slam these kneelers, make sure that if they begin playing the anthem while you are standing at the urinal in the ballpark men’s room that you stop and put your hand over your heart. No time to wash it, just do it. If you’re on the sofa at home, make sure you stand. And if you’re the type who is so patriotic that you fly your flag at night without illumination, that you patronize businesses who use it for advertising or have flag T-shirts and underwear, maybe you should read the U.S. flag code before you accuse others of disrespecting the flag.

I respect what the flag represents — or is supposed to represent. I wish NFL players would stand during the national anthem and show respect for the flag. But I do not think they should be required to do so. Nor do I think Trump should suggest that they not even be in our country as he did today on fairly imbalanced State-Run Television.

Forced patriotism is not patriotism at all. In fact, it reeks of authoritarianism and the nationalism demanded by fascist regimes. That’s not who we are … yet.