Notes on a Scandal

My position on protests during the national anthem is nuanced. But there are those that believe this is a black and white issue both literally and metaphorically.

I disagree.

This has more shades of grey than an E. L. James novel.

I support the right for anyone to peacefully protest anything in whatever manner suits their conscience.

Personally, I sing the national anthem and I am fully aware of the little-known third verse and how it seemingly celebrates the fact that not even "hirelings and slaves" were exempt from America's wrath during the British bloodbath at Fort McHenry.

It's not like I haven't thought it through though. 

I know that Francis Scott Key was a wealthy complicated slave-owning lawyer, who had a desk job in Washington at the time. I know that he was in his feelings after a brutal night of fighting, and when he came out of cover in the morning he saw an American flag flying and it inspired him.

The site of the flag inspired him because all hell had broken loose the night before. None of them knew whether they'd see daybreak. 

But they survived it. 

Regardless of Key's personal proclivities I can relate to not knowing if I'm going to make it through to the other side, and being hyped beyond hyped for surviving.

And not just surviving...

but winning.

Maybe I shouldn't draw parallels between sport and war, but I do so not with the intent to offend but to more easily explain...

because there are some competitions...

Like this year's world championships..

Where I didn't know how I was going to come out of the fight.

And so singing that first verse...

Singing land of the free...

Singing home of the brave...

meant something special to me...

That time.

And do you know why music and lyrics are so powerful?

They are powerful because they are open to interpretation. Its meaning is interpreted by the listener.

That's how music and lyrics are able to endure for time everlasting.

In that moment, on the podium singing the national anthem last August, the word FREEDOM, and the word BRAVE meant something completely different to me than I'm sure it did to Brittany Reese.

And nobody asked me at the time what it meant to me to sing those words and to have them for the first time in a long time apply to me. But you can probably guess by now how I interpreted them.

I took ownership of them.

Because in that moment that experience of being battered in battle and coming out of it alive was my experience too.

But what if it's not?

What if that's not what the national anthem means to you?

Collin Kaepernick told us what it meant to him to stand for those words. To him, it meant a complete denial of reality, because for a country that boasts that there is liberty and justice for all, there is a disproportionate amount of disparity between the majority and the minority. To him, standing for the national anthem was disrespecting THOSE people.  The people that he has decided to be a voice for.

And the keywords in the previous paragraph are...


It's not about disrespecting the flag, or the national anthem, or the military, or the NFL. 

He's already told us what it was about. So believe him.

But a common follow-up has been, "well he should have chosen to do it another way..."

But isn't he within his rights afforded to him by the constitution to freedom of speech, expression, peaceful protest, and can't he do so in whatever way suits his conscience?

The answer is yes. And that's not a matter of opinion.

It's in the Bill of Rights.

You are also well within your rights to disagree with him. And to speak, express, and peacefully protest your disapproval in whatever way you see fit. That's your right too.

To make this an issue about the flag or the anthem, is to miss the entire point, is to fall for the bait and switch.

Deciding that this is about disrespecting the national anthem or the flag rather than the issue he's kneeling for is like...

Confronting your significant other about flirtatious texts from a person who is NOT you only to have them react by going off on you about invading their privacy.

Next thing you know you're on the receiving end of an "if there's no trust between us what do we have" lecture and the real problem, the texts that validate your lack of trust, goes unacknowledged.

But trust...

It'll come up again.

It always does.

Until you face the music.

Bloggers Note: 36 U.S.C. 301 refers to the rules of conduct during the national anthem. "Violating" this statute does not come with penalties because to do so would be in violation of that person's First Amendment rights. The same is true for the Flag Code.

nick steadman