In defense of our anthem

On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key penned "The Star Spangled Banner" after witnessing the bombardment of Fort McHenry during the Battle of Baltimore.  In the 200 years since then, it has evolved into one of the most inspiring songs ever written.

Our anthem is globally recognized.  It is played at the openings of our professional sports games, with everyone in attendance on their feet (notwithstanding the players — more on that later).  It is in countless movies and television shows.  It is the most played song at every Olympics.

Our anthem isn't a cookie-cutter mishmash to elusive ideals that one day in some chimerical future we might achieve.  "The Star-Spangled Banner" is a detailed account of a specific historical event: the British attack on Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.  The entire first stanza, the one recognized and sung today, is a glowing description of Francis Scott Key's realization that, among the explosions and cannon fire, the American flag is still flying over the fort.  The United States has won the battle, and our unprecedented experiment in freedom has survived another day.  The inspiration of his poem comes not from a recitation of ideals; the raised flag itself is enough.  No other allusions are needed, because within the fabric of that flag lives the enduring ubiquity of our freedom that other anthems can only chirp about. 

Standing for our anthem is not an act of blind patriotism.  It is a wide-eyed declaration of respect for the values the flag represents and approval of every American bullet fired in the perpetual struggle against tyranny.  It is pride for the fact that, no matter what the detractors say, the United States of America has practiced those values more consistently than any other nation in the history of mankind.  

And what of the kneelers?  What of Colin Kaepernick and the other persons of unimaginable privilege who owe everything they have to the country they so smugly disrespect?  Their supposed beef, against all evidence, is that America is systemically and irredeemably racist.  For a moment, let us suspend disbelief and pretend these are genuine statements of social concern and not desperate gambits for attention à la aging radio shock jocks who keep upping the obscenity stunts to stay relevant.

If the kneelers honestly believe that America is racist to the core, then their beef goes well beyond the anthem.  If the NFL, the NBA, the NBL, Nike, Wheaties, Sports Illustrated, and all the rest are irredeemably poisoned by racism, then the kneelers have no business entering into open contracts with them.  If they continue to profit off these supposedly racist institutions, then they are sellouts peddling their labor to the richest overseer.

Oh, and then there's soccer.  FC Dallas and Nashville SC players knelt during the anthem and were booed by fans.  FC Dallas's defender Reggie Cannon called the fans' reaction "disgraceful" and "disgusting" in a completely-missing-the-point parody that few besides someone who gets paid to kick a ball could so patently articulate.  Cannon sniveled, "They just think we're the ignorant ones."  Yep, pretty much.

Cannon doesn't get it.  The anthem is an apolitical, unifying song.  Those who dishonor it because they feel that their cause du jour isn't getting sufficient attention are putting their personal politics above the unity of the whole.  If the Little Sisters of the Poor knelt for the anthem to protest Obamacare's contraception mandate, you can bet the current kneelers and their Siamese media twins would be howling their disdain for those who "sow division." 

When this whole kneeling nonsense started up, I'll admit I was offended, even more so as it approached its current high water mark.  But now I take it as a matter of pride that washouts like Colin Kaepernick kneel.  He and his ilk don't deserve to stand for our anthem.  These people openly support dictators and spew racist hatred.  They abuse drugs, drive drunk, commit armed robbery, beat and rape women, and murder.  Pat Tillmans they are most certainly not.  Their values do not reflect those of our national anthem.  If the likes of them stood for our anthem, therein would lie the actual disrespect.

So I say to the kneelers, when you grasp what our anthem and flag truly represent, and when you embrace those values over tribalism and tin-pot despotism, much less your own felonious behavior, then you can rise to your feet.  And on that day, understand that you stand at 1,000 feet, 1 millimeter, because you're leaning on the shoulders of 1,000-foot giants.  Until then, keep kneeling.

Image: Jeff Turner via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

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