San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick willingly made a public statement by refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest for what he deems are wrongdoings against African-Americans and minorities in the United States.
He stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, 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 paid leave and getting away with murder.”
After his display of protest, the 49ers issued a statement about Kaepernick’s decision: “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.”
The history of playing the national anthem before sports games goes back to the mid-1800s. However, it was with Babe Ruth’s last postseason appearance for the Boston Red Sox in 1918 that the song made its unbreakable bond with the sports world. In the midst of World War I, with many veterans and family members of military personnel in attendance, Red Sox third baseman and seaman Fred Thomas, on furlough from the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Chicago, hearing the “Star Spangled Banner” played, jumped to his feet, faced the flag and saluted. From his witness, the rest of the team did as well, with those military or veterans saluting and the civilians placing their hands over their heart.
Through wars, conflicts, trials and tribulations, our anthem became a tradition, a way for us to honor those who have fought, with great sacrifice, to preserve our freedom.
Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom for Colin Kaepernick to take a knee.
My father, a World War II Navy veteran from the Pacific Theater, taught me the meaning of honor and respect for God and country. He explained to me that friends of his were not as lucky as he was to come home and that, no matter who is president, no matter what is happening in our country at the time (this was in the 1960s when flags were being burned) our flag stands for more than an individual. The flag stands for our right, responsibility and ability to improve society. To stand with respect, with our hands over our heart, says we cherish these freedoms that so many have paid the ultimate price to preserve and protect.
Our national anthem is a song of battle. Francis Scott Key was writing about the great battle, or “perilous fight” over Baltimore during the War of 1812. “And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
Do we have problems in our beloved country? Yes, and we always will, because perfection is for heaven alone. But it is up to us to remember that we have the freedom to facilitate change. To facilitate change, most of the battles will be the war of words, respectfully and peacefully making our voices heard. While we may not be faced with physical rockets and bombs, it will take the free and the brave to fight them just the same.
Does our battle song inspire more than two teams fighting on a football field? I hope so. I hope it inspires us to stand up for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And right now, all three of those preciously fought-for freedoms are at risk. The most vulnerable, the voiceless unborn babies who have no right to life. Our loss of religious liberties that this country was founded on. And there is no pursuit of happiness if you have not life or liberty.
Chris Codden is director of the Office of Marriage and Family of the Diocese of St. Cloud. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.