Would you stand for this?

Published 6:36 am Wednesday, August 12, 2020

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It has become popular among professional athletes to kneel during the national anthem. The effect is a sort of shock show. It is intended to draw attention to an issue, and to draw attention to the great virtue held by that athlete. And while I understand the issue they attempt to raise, I question whether they choose the correct forum for raising it.

Kneeling during the national anthem is clearly allowed by the United States Constitution. We all have the freedom of speech, and that includes—by definition—expressions that others disagree with.

However, as I told a very surprised friend lately, freedom of speech runs both ways. The kneeling is largely done by athletes at sporting events. And while those athletes have the right to take a knee, I have the right to take my right hand to switch off my television. And that is precisely what I intend to do.

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They have forgotten that they are mere entertainers whose pay is directly related to how many people they entertain. I read this week that about a half million fewer people watched the NASCAR race than watched it last year. It has already begun.

I watch sports events for fun. Football, baseball, basketball, NASCAR, are only fun because—let’s face it—they don’t really matter. Even the most sacred of cows, the Alabama and Auburn football game, only matters because we assign importance to it. We use these games to take our minds away from real life; they are at best anodynes that allow us to momentarily slip out of our real worries and into made-up worries.

So, what’s so hot about that one song, the Star-Spangled Banner? Why stand for it as opposed to others? You know me—I did a little research.

Interested in what I found out?

The War of 1812 had raged for two years between the newly-minted United States and the aging British empire. On August 22, 1814, British troops marched on Washington, D.C., burned the White House, the Capitol Building, and the Library of Congress. When they burned the White House, our president, James Madison, the genius who is largely credited with writing our Constitution, narrowly escaped. To make things worse, Napoleon abdicated this throne, and about 400 of his battle-hardened troupes joined the British invading force.

Things didn’t look too good for the new world.

President Madison sent a Maryland lawyer named Francis Scott Key to the British ship Tonant to bargain for the release of a high-profile prisoner the British had captured.

Key won the prisoner’s release, but he also learned that the British were about to attack the nearby Ft. McHenry. He was not to leave the ship until after the battle. The British saw that fort as easy pickings.

Key was in the right place at the right time to be a witness to history.

On September 14, 1814, Key watched helplessly as an entire fleet of ships sent shells toward the fort.

Smithsonian Magazine says that Key later wrote, “It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone.”

Key watched all night long as the sky was lit red from the ordnance striking Ft. McHenry. The Americans were so outnumbered, the shelling was so relentless, and the sounds, the smells and the smoke so all-consuming, that Key had no doubt that the fort, like the White House, had fallen. His brother-in-law commanded a militia there. Had he lived?

As morning broke, the shelling had been so severe that even the British could not tell if the fort was even standing. As daylight arrived, the British ordered the shelling to stop. A light ocean breeze swept across the bow of the ships, and the smoke began, inch by inch, slipping away. Key, the British generals and sailors, and all who were watching from across the water, paused to see whether the fort any longer existed.

As the war-scarred air cleared, the first thing they saw was a flag. But whose flag? If the flag was the Union Jack, it meant the fort had fallen and the British had won. If it was the American flag, the fort still stood.

As they strained their eyes to see, the fate of a nation hanging in the balance, they saw the American flag fluttering in the breeze. The Americans had won. The British gave up the battle, and a peace treaty was signed a few months later.

Key saw that flag and was moved to write. I understand that impulse. He set his now-famous lyrics to the tune of a popular British song. His brother-in-law took them to a local newspaper, and they were published. In his song, he named our flag the star-spangled banner, a name that has lasted, a symbol of the heroism of that small band of men and women who outlasted a horrendous bombing to keep Ft. McHenry an American possession, and which kept our hopes as a nation alive.

In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson declared that the song should be played at all official events. In 1931 we adopted it as our national anthem.

From then until now, Americans have voluntarily stood out of respect for the flag, for our country, for the brave few who defeated the invading many, and by extension, all of those who gave their lives to allow us to have the freedoms—including the right to kneel when the song is played—that we enjoy today.

Yes, they have the right to kneel.

But when I get the chance, I will put my hand over my heart and stand with the military that protects me, with the law enforcement that keep me safe, with the firemen who run into burning buildings, and with the men and women, some of whom are related to me, who died making sure that we all had a chance to make these decisions.

And don’t forget this: those athletes who refuse to respect our flag—their moment in the sun will end, and we will soon forget even their names. We call them athletes, but what they really are is entertainers and, as entertainers, the entertainment they offer is optional.

If a bombardment of fifty of the greatest warships by the greatest naval force on earth can’t bring one fort and one flag down, the momentary virtue signaling of a few athletes won’t either.