This week, according to sludgebait website Awful Announcing, “Everyone Is Losing Their [sic] Minds Over Colin Kaepernick.” During a preseason NFL game, television cameras caught the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback sitting during the traditional pregame playing of the national anthem. Kaepernick addressed the subject in a postgame interview:
His team promptly issued the following statement:
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.
Kaepernick’s former teammate, Alex Boone, also was quick to react, and his critical comments reflected those of many who were displeased with Kaepernick’s display:
You should have some f—ing respect for people who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom. We’re out here playing a game, making millions of dollars. People are losing their life, and you don’t have the common courtesy to do that. That just drove me nuts. . . . There’s a time and a place. Show some respect.
I haven’t been alive every year America, or its flag, has, but I have the following senses: 1) the American flag long has been a symbol of great reverence for the nation’s military, for obvious reasons; 2) the flag was not always the exclusive symbolic property of any particular political or social faction, however; 3) as it had during prior times of national crisis, the flag’s symbolic energy increased during the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks; and 4) during that time, and as the nation’s response to those attacks eventually became a matter of partisan and public controversy, the flag, as a symbol, traveled with that response and its proponents such that, in the following years, many wore or displayed the flag as a symbolic endorsement of the growing War on Terror and the political and military leaders of that war, to the exclusion of other people and groups, including those who questioned or opposed those actions.
The American flag belongs to all Americans, however, including those who want to fly it in support of a particular political regime; those who want to fly it in opposition to a particular political regime, as a reminder of values for which it stands that they feel that regime is disregarding; those who want to reject it; those who want to burn it; those who want to ignore it; and anyone else.
Kaepernick’s protest raises serious and immediate practical concerns. The discourse his protest initiated also highlighted the reality that many view the flag and other national symbols as the exclusive property of some, but not all. That is worrisome, but it also provides an opportunity to examine and reverse the trajectory of the flag as a captured, proprietary national symbol.