When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in the “colored” section at the back of the bus to a white passenger in 1955, she did so because she was tired of complying with unjust discrimination based solely on the color of her skin.
She wanted equality, not segregation, to be the law of the land and her willingness to be arrested and fined to accomplish that goal sparked the Montgomery bus boycott and launched the Civil Rights Movement that radically improved justice and equality for millions of Americans.
When Vietnam War protesters burned the American flag in the 1960s, they were expressing their disagreement with our government’s continued prosecution of what they believed to be an ill-advised, unjust, and unwinnable war.
Historians agree that relentless American protests against the war were instrumental in bringing an end to United States involvement in Vietnam and the senseless killing of our sons, brothers, fathers, and friends.
Conversely, today when a football player kneels during the Star-Spangled Banner purportedly to protest incidents of police brutality toward African-Americans, he has no specific law or official government action he desires to change. Hence, there is no objective, ascertainable standard by which the success of his protest can be measured. As a result, his anger over the evil inflicted by individual officers without government knowledge or sanction is misdirected at our nation as a whole and our flag for which it stands.
The American flag and our national anthem represent many things to many people, including courage, truth, liberty and the memory and honor of all those who were wounded or died fighting that we and others might live free.
When we fly the Stars and Stripes, we declare our support for these basic principles, but we are not saying the country, its people or its policies are never wrong, or that there are no greater virtues to which we can and should aspire.
When I stand for the American flag or our national anthem, it is my intent to demonstrate respect for those souls who fought for my freedom and the freedom of others, to honor the founding principles upon which our nation was established, and to reflect on my own personal responsibility to live consistent with those ideals.
I ask those wealthy men who play football for millions of dollars exactly why they cannot stand during our national anthem out of respect for the United States of America and the men and women who won and secured their right to kneel through the sacrifice of their own blood, sweat, and toil?
Besides taking a knee, what have these ball players done for this great country which has so richly blessed them? What do they hope to accomplish by this protest and when will they know it has been accomplished so that, at some point in the future, they will again stand when the Star-Spangled Banner is played?
As Colin Kaepernick, the football player who initiated this protest in August 2016 explained: “When there's significant change and I feel like [the American] flag represents what it's supposed to represent, [and that] this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand."
So, when Mr. Kaepernick feels like our nation is representing black citizens the way he thinks that it is supposed to, then he and other football players can once again stand for the national anthem? How will we know when he feels good about our country again? What if he feels like the country is doing what it is supposed to, but another football player doesn’t feel the same way?
Where is the nexus between our federal government, represented by our flag and national anthem, and periodic evil perpetrated by broken people and beyond the ability of our government to control?
Policing, by its nature, often requires immediate, independent judgments based on training and experience.
We can end laws that discriminate between individuals who have been created equal, and we can recruit the highest quality of men and women as law enforcement officers and provide them with the best, most effective and comprehensive training available, but we cannot end bad actors or their bad acts in a fallen world, nor can we guarantee under all circumstances that even well-intentioned, imperfect or inexperienced people will not occasionally make poor choices.
I understand the sense of outrage when anyone – black or white – is unjustifiably killed by a police officer who has been sworn to serve and protect us. But that anger does not answer the question of what, specifically, NFL players expect us to do as a nation of individuals and of laws, before they will get off their knees and back on their feet when our flag is flown.
I would encourage these men to do something that has a more reasonable probability of accomplishing their intended objective.
Something that may cost them personally, that will involve actual sacrifice rather than simply bending a knee.
Until football players can articulate the purpose for which they are kneeling and how they, and we, will be able to judge when their objective has been achieved and thus, when they will no longer need to kneel in protest, they should stand up for all the good that is represented by our flag and our national anthem and give due honor to the memory of those who wore a soldier’s uniform and served so that they could put on their football uniform and play.
— Karen Feil Wilson is a local attorney and wife of Mike Wilson, a pastor at The Dalles First Christian Church.