One of the key elements of the Freedom of Speech is being able to speak out against and/or act in protest against a government’s actions without retribution from said government.
Consider this: the symbols of our country are just that — stand-ins for a political structure; an image or collection of notes arranged in a pleasing manner and accompanied by words to stir pride, to stir togetherness and unity.
Not acknowledging one of those symbols is not disrespect, it is within our rights as Americans. In fact, the architects of the Constitution codified those rights as the backbone of our country to ensure that people couldn’t be thrown in jail for speaking out against deplorable policies that treat some of our citizens as second-class while elevating others.
It might seem counterintuitive to say that the people who fought for us to be able to fly the flag also fought for us to be able to burn it. It’s that freedom to speak freely, to express our displeasure with a government that does right by only some of its people some of the time, that the flag represents.
It doesn’t only cover the good parts of the country, it covers the bad, too. It covers the KKK’s right to march (something I personally find reprehensible) and spread its white supremacist ignorance, intolerance and hatred; and it covers a football player’s right to sit out the national anthem because he sees something deeply amiss in the way the state treats black people and people of color.
The national anthem is a song. It is just, at the end of the day, a song. And it’s a song that was appropriated from another culture (like so many wildly popular American things are), to be a unifying symbol to those of us who were lucky enough to be born on U.S. soil, and those who dreamt of becoming Americans in many cases for the exact kinds of freedom Kaep exercised last night. He wasn’t taken out back and shot; he wasn’t jailed for insurrection or treason or simply just being “un-American” as many are accusing him of today. Speaking out in protest is as American as you can get.
NFL teams and the league can’t seem to figure out domestic violence or drugs or game ball deflation, but at least this time, they got it right.