Hell must have frozen over.
My old buddy Mike, the most rabid football fan I have ever known, stopped watching the NFL this season.
“I can’t watch that crap anymore,” he told me recently.
This is a man who lives for football. A man who sinks into post-partum depression every February a week after the Super Bowl.
But his wife is thrilled. Now Mike takes her out to eat on Sundays.
My buddy is just one of millions of NFL fans who are tuning out their favorite sport. They are too irritated by the kneeling protests during pre-game ceremonies.
As you may recall, the “National Anthem Kneel” began in 2016 when 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the pre-game anthem. He later told the press that he couldn’t “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”
Kaepernick, like many African-Americans, was upset by a number of high-profile police shootings of black citizens being reported across the country.
For now, we won’t wander into the debate about the legitimacy of these police-action shootings. My focus today is on the nature of the protest.
No rational person can deny that that people of color have been cruelly oppressed in America’s past. Slavery was America’s original sin, and we are still suffering from its after-effects.
Black Americans also endured long decades of legal discrimination after the Civil War. They faced violent opposition from white racists during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s.
So even an old white guy like me gets it – racism is a touchy subject. Most black Americans have faced discrimination and disrespect in our country during their lifetimes.
But staging a protest during the national anthem, which many Americans interpret as a sign of disrespect to our most cherished ideals, is counter-productive.
The national anthem and the flag symbolize what we all believe is best about America: liberty, independence, the rule of law and not of men. These are all ideals that should unite us.
In fact, these ideals are really the only things that do unite us. We have never been a country united by blood or clan or religion or geography.
We are a disparate people; a nation of immigrants and refugees; and yes, to our shame, a nation of former slaves.
We are unique among the world’s nations because all that really unites us is an idea: that all men are created equal. That government is subject to the consent of the governed. That we are all endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights.
We are living in history’s greatest experiment in human self-government.
But haven’t we failed to live up to our ideals? Oh yes, countless times in countless ways.
We are a vain and imperfect people, and our national sins are many. If God is just (and He certainly is) America may well face judgement someday for our failure to live up to the high ideals we profess.
It has taken us 241 years to get as far as we have. Few would deny that we still have a long way to go. Yet undeniable progress has been made.
When we stand to sing the anthem we come together and re-affirm our commitment to a uniquely American vision of human freedom. We also take that time to honor our military personnel whose sacrifices have made all of this possible.
It is our shared love of liberty that guarantees every American their freedom of speech.
So if you’ve got a beef with this country, you have a God-given inalienable right to express it publicly. You are free to do so because you live in a nation of laws where your liberty is protected.
And everyone else has the right to ignore you if they disagree with what you say or how you say it.
If you decide to protest during the national anthem, you are on a fool’s errand. Most people will reject whatever you say, because you are disrespecting the symbols that stand for your freedom to say it in the first place.
I don’t claim to know how we can rid ourselves of the last ugly remnants of racism in America, but I can tell you this:
If you truly intend to right a wrong, your strategy should include reaching out to reasonable people and persuading them to join your cause. You need to state your case without turning off the very people you need to influence.
And if you find you are unable to sway people to your way of thinking, maybe you need to re-evaluate just what it is you believe and why you believe it. Perhaps you have been wrong about something.
Or perhaps you need to find a more persuasive way to make your argument.
When you alienate fans like my buddy Mike and they stop watching NFL football, someone needs to forward you the memo: It’s time to try a different play.