By Jeff Utsch
Quarterbacks are, by definition, team leaders. They set the pace of a game. Their accuracy on reading an opponent’s defense is critical to victory or loss. An errant pass or a fumbled handoff can undo the heroic sacrifice of an entire offensive team.
Much of Americans’ vocabulary is based on our national pastimes. We say things, as second nature, like, “I am going to punt;” “he stiff-armed me;” and, “I fumbled an opportunity.” Who can forget the lyrics from the 1969 Mel & Tim song, “Backfield in motion, yeah, I’m gonna have to penalize you…?”
This symbiotic relationship between language and sport is why it is important to “ground” any athlete who uses his prominence as a bully-pulpit. Recently, that has meant Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers star quarterback. It will invariably include others from across the sports world.
The attention that Kaepernick has brought upon himself by not standing for our national anthem presents an opportunity to discuss why most of us do. Some of us do it from habit. Others from respect. It is a ritual, something we do almost without reflection. For others, it is a moving show of unity, a time for gratitude, thought, introspection and rededication.
Why should we stand?
Because, I submit, we are one in the ideals of America. “What are those ideals?” one might ask. The ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence are those that glue us together as a nation. They became the cornerstone of our civic, religious and cultural ways of life.
The assertion, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights” started the ball rolling. Yes, the Founders recognized that as truth. It didn’t mean that it was reality in 18th Century America. It did mean that is what we should strive to become.
That short sentence contained a revolution of ideas and a belief system the world had not yet seen on a national level. That phrase alone refuted the divine rights of kings, the caste system, the feudal system and any that placed one above another because of birth, race, position, power or money. This was done at a time when we, as a nation, still allowed slavery.
Many of the Founders, we need to remember, did not own slaves and were staunchly against it. Were the others hypocrites, then? What about Jefferson who penned the words in the Declaration? A pragmatic idealist who would afterward decide his personal policy? Jefferson, in particular, recognized his precarious position as a slave owner. He trembled to know the consequences of holding others in slavery, he wrote a friend, knowing that God is true and just.
Jefferson recognized the truth and wrote to the ideal. He knew the ideal. So did the other Founders and that is why the Declaration of Independence was adopted. One of the many things that have made us a great nation is that we have usually recognized, stretched for and reached for the ideal. It doesn’t mean that we have met the ideal. We are a work in progress. But, to recognize it and strive toward it, is legacy with proof positive of our nation´s greatness. Yes, we have our flaws, profound ones, but our accomplishments and desire to mend those flaws open paths like the best of offensive lines.
Under our flag:
• The battle cry of freedom was shouted for all nations to hear, and many did.
• Religious Liberty became the norm.
• Freedom of the press and of speech is protected.
• We became a nation of law and order with protection of life, liberty and property.
• People are free to reach their full measure and create their own destiny.
• Slaves were set free.
• There has been more opportunity for more people of all backgrounds than any other nation in the history of the world.
• Europe was liberated and rebuilt.
• The crushing yoke of the Soviet Union was broken for millions.
• The people of Asia and the Pacific Islands were rescued from Imperial Japan.
• More wealth has been generated, more advances in technology, more increases in standards of living, more opportunities for minorities, and more hope to the hopeless given than anywhere ever recorded.
I could go on.
I could also list some demerits. There are plenty of moments of shame in our history but when compared to other nations, times and peoples the United States of America has had the best track record of any in the history of the world. This should not be forgotten. On the other hand, how can this be forgotten if they are never taught in the first place?
Any of us could come up with reasons not to stand for the flag. An unjust Supreme Court decision. A corrupt political system. An abuse of executive privilege. A lying President. Crony capitalism. Lawlessness. Maybe, even an unfair video replay system.
I would argue, though, that when things get bad, or the perception is that they are bad, then the need to strive for the ideal is paramount. Standing for the national anthem gives us that opportunity.
This is why we stand tall, proud and with great reverence when the anthem is played. Even though things are not perfect we all have a common bond, not just as Americans but more importantly the ideals that we share in common with our Founders.
Refusing to stand for the national anthem is a refusal of our national ideals and reverence for those who have sacrificed for them.
To me this is akin to rejecting Christ’s teachings because you realized your fellow church goers weren’t perfect or perhaps you saw your pastor do something wrong. None of those acts would change the ideal of Christ’s standard.
Similarly, no act by a single person or group of people or current event or movement within our country can rewrite what the ideals are that set our nation’s course over two centuries ago. Standing and showing respect and reverence during the national anthem is one way to acknowledge and recommit ourselves to these original ideals.
Colin Kaepernick would have done well to heed Davy Crockett’s admonition of “making sure you are correct, then go ahead”. Sure he has the right to sit but he is showing himself ignorant of what standing for the flag is all about. If he did understand it he would be the first up and the most attentive of them all.