The act of NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem has gone from being a stunt to a plague that is infecting the whole league. When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded to President Trump’s criticism by defending the players, he showed that he not only has no clue why NFL viewership is in the tank, he also has no clue what the National Anthem is all about.
The absurdity reached a new high on Sunday, when players for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens at an exhibition game in London refused to stand for the National Anthem, but stood for the British anthem, “God Save the Queen.” It’s ironic because the National Anthem was written to commemorate the bravery that the outnumbered and outgunned American soldiers showed when they nevertheless defeated the British at the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814. During the night of September 12-13, British ships fired between 1,500 and 1,800 rounds at the fort, most of the time remaining outside of the reach of the Americans’ weaker cannons. Fort McHenry should have been reduced to rubble. But miraculously, the American fort survived the bombardment, and at dawn, the American flag was still flying.
What would those American soldiers who lost their lives to British cannons think about the American players today who stand in respect for the British national anthem, but refuse to stand for the American song that commemorates their valor? Of course, I doubt that this irony even occurred to any of the football players, as they virtue-signaled for the cameras. One wonders if any of them even know the history of the Battle of Fort McHenry.
Aside from that, there’s an additional problem with the football players’ protest: it doesn’t make sense. The players are protesting the police shootings that involved African-American victims. But the National Anthem stands for three things: (1) the bravery of the American soldiers at Fort McHenry; (2) giving thanks to God for the miraculous victory (the fourth verse makes that clear); and (3) America itself. Presumably, they are using the National Anthem as a symbol representing the third – our country itself.
But how can these NFL players disrespect the very country that gives them the opportunity to earn seven- or eight-figure salaries just for playing a game that they enjoy? There’s no other place on earth that they can become rich role models just by playing American football. And there’s no other place on earth that so thoroughly investigates and holds accountable its police officers in those cases where an officer actually does something wrong – which is a problem that we all want solved.
They should be celebrating the American Constitution and the American system, not disrespecting it. If they want to protest incidents of police shootings, they should wear symbolic armbands naming the victims or put stickers on their warm-up gear on the sidelines. That would be more specific and it wouldn’t disrespect our country.
Over the course of history, more than 650,000 brave Americans have given their lives in defense of our country, our Constitution, and the freedom, liberty, and justice that it represents. It is entirely possible for those who wish to voice their opinions on issues to do so in a way that doesn’t disparage the ultimate sacrifice our veterans gave in defense of our nation.
It speaks volumes that when the Pittsburgh Steelers stayed in the locker room rather than come onto the field for the National Anthem, only one player resisted the pack mentality to show respect for his country. Offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva, who had been a captain in the Army and an ex-Ranger who did three tours in Afghanistan, came out and stood hand over heart, as the Star Spangled Banner played. He knows exactly what the National Anthem stands for. His lonely tribute epitomized “the home of the brave.”
We have the freedom as Americans to speak out on matters that deeply concern each of us. But in an ever-polarized society, there is simply no excuse for disrespecting our country, our National Anthem, or the sacrifice made by so many brave veterans. That’s why so many fans are booing the protesting players and declining to watch the NFL on TV. There are better ways to protest than by taking a knee during a time universally reserved for solemn respect.
But of course, the players won’t take my advice. Maybe they really do despise America and all that it stands for. If that’s the case, then I encourage them to do something truly courageous. Give up your cushy salary and try making such a comfortable living in another country.
Kris W. Kobach is the elected Secretary of State of Kansas. An expert in immigration law and policy, he coauthored the Arizona SB-1070 immigration law and represented in federal court the 10 ICE agents who sued to stop Obama’s 2012 executive amnesty. In 2017 President Trump named him Vice Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. He is currently a candidate for governor of Kansas. His website is kriskobach.com.