To look at the news coverage, you’d think that the decisions of NFL players to take a knee, or sit, or stand at attention, during the playing of the National Anthem is the biggest news story in the world right now. President Trump had to weigh in on it — of course! — and Facebook and other forms of social media are on fire with discussion of various perspectives on the protests.
The reaction to the NFL protests shows the uniquely powerful role of symbols like flags and the National Anthem — which is why they provide a very effective platform for the exercise of First Amendment rights, and have served in that capacity at least since the ’60s, when students protesting the Vietnam War burned the flag and American sprinters raised their fists while the National Anthem played during a medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics. If you want to provoke strong reactions and draw attention to your cause, you can hardly do better than taking action that can be interpreted as showing some form of disrespect when the American flag is being displayed or the National Anthem is played.
And yet, I can’t help but think that the coverage of the NFL protests is ridiculously disproportionate. Whether athletes who are being paid millions of dollars to play sports are standing, sitting, or kneeling during the National Anthem doesn’t really measure up on the importance scale with, say, the increasingly aggressive tone of communications about North Korea and the possibility of some kind of confrontation about it. Nor does it compare to the utter misery and loss that thousands of people are suffering in hurricane-ravaged areas, or for that matter whether the United States is ever going to actually tackle critical big-picture issues, like the ever-present deficit spending that threatens to cast us over the fiscal cliff.
I think the real reason people are paying so much attention to the NFL protests is precisely that it’s small stuff, relatively speaking. It’s easy to stake out a position on the protests, pro or con, on the social media engine of your choice, and there are lots of juicy side issues to explore — like whether the protests will hurt already declining NFL TV ratings, whether sports in America has become overly politicized, whether athletes will lose lucrative endorsement deals, and whether the focus of the protests has become hopelessly blurred when billionaire owners like Jerry Jones are joining in and taking a knee. It’s easy to discuss all of those topics — a lot easier than making sense out of the North Korean situation or discussing how America should respond to it.
There’s a lot of hoopla at any championship game, and the World Series opener is no exception. The crowd got to the game early, with the Chicago Cubs being well represented, and by the time a giant American flag had been rolled out and the National Anthem sung, the fans of both teams were ready to play ball. The last few minutes before the first pitch seemed to last forever, but then the hoopla ended and a pretty good ballgame broke out.
I’m staying at a downtown Washington, D.C. hotel and the D.A.R. — the Daughters of the American Revolution — is in the house, big time. The group has flooded the Nation’s Capital for an annual conference. According to a pleasant woman in the elevator, 3,500 of the D.A.R. members are here. Yesterday all of them seemingly were genteelly and graciously packed, cheek to jowl, into the atrium lobby of my hotel.
Two observations about the D.A.R. First, this is a group that really, really likes the American flag. From the little decorations on the lobby desk that featured Old Glory and the D.A.R. flag, to the red, white, and blue themes of many outfits, to the little jeweled and spangled pins sported by some members, flag references were everywhere.
Second, the D.A.R. must be one of the top national consumers of ribbons and medals. The ribbons — which surprisingly seem to come in red, white and blue — are worn just below the shoulder on one side, and the medals are pinned on the other. The medals are actual metal, too.
According to my fellow elevator riders, at least some of the medals show how many relatives and ancestors were D.A.R. members. That is pretty awesome, because some of the very well-coiffed ladies had phalanxes of medals tugging at their blouses that made them look like Soviet era generals atop Lenin’s tomb for the May Day parade. One woman had to walk around with one hand daintily but firmly pressed against her collar bone to keep her astonishingly vast and undoubtedly heavy medals board from ripping her blouse to shreds. Every one of her female ancestors must have been a D.A.R. member — maybe back to the Revolution itself.
May you enjoy the pageantry of a parade, the strains of a John Philip Sousa march, and the happy faces of children as the bands and floats pass by. May your fireworks be bright, and your hot dogs succulent, and your family cookouts fun-filled.
And, at some point today, may you pause to consider a veteran’s sacrifice, reflect on what has made this country great, and consider what we all can do to make this country even greater. We’ve still got work to do.
Perhaps the modification of the American flag to be sold on campaign gear mug isn’t that big of a deal — but perhaps it is. All Americans felt a surge of pride and patriotism when they see the flag raised and hear the National Anthem. The flag is a powerful unifying symbol. When you design a new flag, aren’t you suggesting the current flag just isn’t good enough? Didn’t anyone on the Obama campaign think that modifying the flag might upset some people? It did, of course — and now the merchandise featuring the new flag doesn’t seem to be available any longer at the Obama campaign store website.
The Obama campaign seems very attuned to the power of symbols; it’s odd that they so missed the boat with this effort. Now they know what most Americans have always felt: our current flag is perfect the way it is, thanks.
Amidst the hot dogs, and fireworks, and beer, and heat, let’s all take a moment to really feel that proud patriotic surge as we celebrate our freedoms and our independence — and let’s also remember that, although we may disagree on some things, Americans remain Americans, and what unites us far outweighs what divides us.
Today is Flag Day. That means it’s time for us all to take a moment to think about our flag and what it signifies, and to let its imagery stir your hearts.
The idea of a day dedicated to our flag came from a schoolteacher in Fredonia, Wisconsin. It started as Flag Birthday — because June 14 is the anniversary of the official adoption of the Stars and Stripes as our national flag, in 1777 — and as the idea caught on, it became a day for patriotic activities and celebrating the flag and the opportunity and freedom it represents. Flag Day was the subject of a presidential proclamation by Woodrow Wilson, in 1916, and June 14 was named Flag Day by an Act of Congress signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1949.
I’ve always thought our flag was a terrific flag — the colors, the back story, and the idea of a star for every state — and therefore is a flag well worth celebrating. And what better way to get into the patriotic spirit than to hear a bunch of second graders, randomly selected from the YouTube search engine, belting out Grand Old Flag, just as we did when we were kids?