When pro athletes such as Colin Kaepernick, and now Lebron James and Mookie Betts, the best and second best player in the world for their respective sports, kneel during the national anthem, they are not disrespecting the troops or our flag. They are using the occasion of the anthem, when the attention of millions is on them, to raise awareness of important issues like systemic racism and police brutality.
Kneelers are not politicizing a solemn moment as critics suggest. It is already an inherently political act to take a pause for the national anthem before the opening pitch/tip/kick.
It’s political theater, an act of performative ceremonial patriotism, something I recognized in high school when the 6 p.m. junior varsity basketball game wasn’t worthy of “The Star-Spangled Banner” but the following 7:30 p.m. varsity game was. Monday after school, junior varsity football games started without the stars and stripes, unlike patriotic Friday night varsity games under the lights. And in baseball we only got the “rocket’s red glare” during sectionals and beyond because there’s no need to show off how much you love America for a high school sport that gets almost no fans.
The anthem at sporting events is what West Point graduate, Vietnam veteran, historian and author Andrew Bacevich calls “a masterpiece of contrived spontaneity, [an] event leav[ing] spectators feeling good about their baseball team, about their military and, not least of all, about themselves.” It’s hagiographic patriotism, an attempt to force a national sense of pride rather than doing the actual hard work of earning it by making America a place that truly provides liberty and justice for all, which it still doesn’t for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Eric Garner and Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin.
Sixty-three million Americans showed how little they cared for Black lives when they elected Donald Trump as president, a cretinous oaf who is a cross between Bull Connor, George Wallace and Archie Bunker. If it makes you feel uncomfortable to see players kneel or to see the Black Lives Matter logo painted on the court, that’s the point.
Sorry, fans, but you don’t get a break from the world when you watch sports. Do the millions without health insurance in the only advanced nation without universal health care get a break from their suffering? Pro athletes are not going to shut up and dribble for your enjoyment.