Please stand for the National Anthem.
You have the right not to. It’s your free speech and political prerogative not to. You should never be criminally punished or physically harmed if you choose not to. This doesn’t mean your alternative experience is suddenly invalid. And yes, some people who tell you to stand for it are total hypocrites who shouldn’t be listened to.
Please stand for it anyway. Not for God and country, not for respect for its own sake, and not even for troops if you really, really don’t want to. Stand for it because it is our opportunity for reconciliation. If we do not embrace it, we cannot embrace each other.
“Shut up, Vivek. The game’s on.”
Sports is the last olive branch. It brings us together, and not just away from politics. Its fandom makes memorable bedfellows among people from all over. It is a cathartic redirecting of our inner tribalistic nature towards something healthy and enjoyable. For the moment, our differences fade and we’re all just people in one family again. One nation again.
This doesn’t mean sports is solely a means of escapism whose sanctity and purity must remain protected like the village virgin. The point is, we all belong again. Societies tend to collapse when we can’t do that anymore.
The National Anthem is where we come together to appreciate this. It’s our pledge of good faith, and it’s bigger than us.
When we stand for the song, face the flag, hands over hearts and mouthing the words, we are speaking the language of love, commitment, and respect for not just the nation, but for those beautiful moments sports give us as people. Many impute this value differently – we say it’s about the troops, or the cops and firefighters, or, if it’s a holiday, the memory of sacrifice and history. Its meaning to you can be as nationalistic or secular as you like. All right answers, but it’s that language of love is the true umbrella of gratitude and celebration of social (not political) unity that our attention for the Anthem speaks to.
“It’s just a protest!”
Time and time again, we’re asked to open our minds and hearts to the perspectives of the kneeling person who thinks he’s doing no harm and simply raising awareness to some kind of injustice. Put aside the fact that if he knelt for being pro life, the controversy wouldn’t last a week, let alone two years, and that standards vary accordingly by politics. The real problem and point of contention here is that kneeling is talked about as though it’s just another form of protest.
But it isn’t, right? This isn’t like marching in the streets, slowing up traffic, displaying public signs or symbols, or sitting in segregated diners. You don’t even necessarily know why he’s kneeling until he tells you in an interview later. And the reaction differs too. In real protests, people get irritated because their routines get inconvenienced. For kneeling, people get irritated because they feel disrespected. Maybe you think it’s just hyper nationalist frailty. But if I wore a “Black Lives Matter” shirt to a game, but stood with everyone for the Anthem, no one would look at me twice.
Kneeling looks like a bad-faith gesture, even if it isn’t intended to be.
“If kneelers are righteous, what does that make me?”
It’s unfair and silly to assume that everyone who has a problem with kneeling either thinks that there’s nothing wrong in America, wants sports purged of all politics, or wants to forcibly tattoo a bald eagle on everyone’s forehead. Imagine what they think you must think of them if they see you kneeling or cheering on the kneelers. “They’re kneeling, I’m standing. If kneelers are righteous, what does that make me?” they might think. You might have an answer to that, but it won’t come across on the knee.
Because like it or not, there’s no scenario in which kneeling doesn’t look like the angry boy refusing to hold hands with his family over grace before dinner. Those who fuss over kneeling may not always be saying it, but the ache in their hearts at the sight of it is not usually coming from the fact that the kneeler has a different idea of how cops treat black people. It’s the broken family. It’s the fact that the kneeler seems either willingly or helplessly incapable of putting his political proclivities aside for a mere two-minute moment of togetherness as a society of people who can still have the moment.
You may believe that not standing will accomplish something important. What it won’t do is help give us the olive branch and speak the language of love.
And there is nothing more important.