You don’t really believe in something unless you choose it freely …
Freedom is a big deal in the United States and at the core of being free is the freedom of choice. A person does well not to be fake and say they believe in something they don’t really believe only because it is popular. People can feel pressure to state their loyalty to a cause when the majority around them say they should say it that way.
The problem is you don’t really have freedom if people are socially or institutionally forced to uphold symbols of freedom. That becomes ironic and another way to suppress freedom of speech. That freedom of speech brings us to another symbol.
The Constitution came before the American Flag, existed before the American Flag and is the true symbol behind the Flag. Indeed, there were multiple versions of the flag but always one Constitution. When the Flag is understood as a representation of the U.S. Constitution, the protests by NFL players come more obvious.
The protests are not a denigration of the Flag but actually a defense of the Flag. What is on display when the player’s kneel is their communication to society that the U.S. Constitution is not being upheld when people are disenfranchised; oppressed by the government; and robbed of their life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Therefore, company rules to prohibit their exercise of their right under the 1st Amendment to express their dissent over the treatment of minorities is governed under the U.S. Constitution that underwrites the existence of the Flag.
The American Flag is an important symbol of the aspirations of the founders of the U.S. to embody the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. That includes the space to say something is not right in the affairs of society and that, for them, to stand as if everything is alright would be, for them, actual hypocrisy. That they decide to kneel is in the very best traditions of protests that are actually defense of the ideals that made America the inspiration in the first place.
Symbols can fail to hold up for all involved. The American Flag as a representation of the U.S. Constitution that underwrites that existence of the U.S. must be a document that inspires us all to relieve the oppression of minorities; to see the recovery of potential and success of all persons; freedom from unwanted search, seizure, and surveillance; and that the Declaration of Independence is true … that we are all in it together with none lesser or greater but that we all work to make life more pleasant for all. The failure of upholding that, making that a reality is the what the NFL players’ kneeling represents.
Are the NFL players the right people for this? Well, if not them … who? They entered professional sports to play a game they love and ascend the social ladder. That latter goal realized carries the expectation that they will not forget those communities from which they come in the strife that exists daily. What I’ve written is what they’ve understood if not spoken in the same way, but their protest is to say, the country can be better than this and sweeping the issues facing the country must be discussed. Let’s start with the U.S. Constitution and what that is supposed to mean for everyone.