Last week, Seattle Seahawk defensive lineman Michael Bennett sat once again during the national anthem, but something interesting happened as center, Justin Britt, stood next to him and put his right hand on his teammate’s left shoulder.
Justin Britt, a white athlete from Missouri told the media, “I want to support him. I want to support what he’s standing for and his beliefs. I’m not foolish. I’m from Missouri. I get things are different in that area than it is in some other areas. I’m not against what the flag means and veterans. My dad was in the Army. I’m not putting any disrespect to them. I’m just trying to understand the issues, trying to educate myself more in that regard and showing support. I’m going to continue to understand what’s going on in the world and why it’s happening, because none of it’s right. None of it is what should be happening. I’m going to continue talking with Mike and exploring and just helping myself understand things. I’m wanted to take a first step tonight, and that’s what I felt I did.”
Justin Britt’s action follows the action of Philadelphia’s Chris Long who stood with his arm around teammate Malcolm Jenkins, who has been raising a fist during the anthem.
Mr. Long said this week, “I’ve said before that I’ll never kneel for an anthem, because the flag means something different for everybody in this country. But I support my peers, and if you don’t see why you need allies for people that are fighting for equality right now, I don’t think you’ll ever see it. So my thing is, Malcolm is a leader, and I’m here to show support as a white athlete.”
This is a new trend in the NFL. Michael Bennett is following the lead of former San Francisco QB Colin Kapernick. In June when he was still unsigned, Michael Bennett said, “most people know why.”
He said, “I think the league is built on middle America, and most of the middle of America is predominantly a white crowd. That’s just the truth of it. I think race is not something that the NFL wants to be a part of or get behind. But the league is predominantly African-American.”
He added, “So the issue that he’s dealing with is what we’re all dealing with. We all come from the inner city or we’ve been a part of communities where we felt like we’ve been judged because of the color of our skin or who we like or if a woman – any issue to deal with. We’ve all been dealing with it with someone in our family.”
Last year Colin Kaepernick explained, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Mr. Kaepernick specifically spoke out against police brutality. He said, “People of color have been targeted by police. So that’s a large part of it and they’re government officials. They are put in place by the government. So that’s something that this country has to change. There’s things we can do to hold them more accountable. Make those standards higher.”
He added, “There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
On a local level, I have always been a little surprised to see both the Davis School Board and the County Board of Supervisors start their meetings with a “patriotic observance,” usually the flag salute. The Davis City Council does not have such a ritual.
Even under different times and circumstances, it always seemed like an antiquated ritual.
I recall in my more rebellious days as a high school student in the 1980s, my high school for some reason started having a flag salute in the middle of the day. I refused to stand and when some other students followed suit, my teacher, a former Marine and assistant football coach told us that we could not sit without a note. Fine, I got my father to write a note. The teacher told me that was fine, he said that he just wanted to make sure I had a reason for doing it and by getting a note from my father, I demonstrated that.
As I got older rather than sitting during the national anthem at sporting events or during the flag solute, I have taken to do a silent protest, I stand but do not say anything.
I have several problems with the ritual. First, the national anthem is a war song and not only a war song, but it was the War of 1812, perhaps one of the most pointless war we have ever had. Second, I have a problem with the idea of pledging allegiance to a flag – not the nation, not the constitution, but to the flag. It is this kind of contrived patriotism that is frankly just antiquated from another era of loyalty tests.
Third, and perhaps most important is the line: “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” The “under God” part was belatedly added to the flag solute and the rest gets to the core of the protests, this nation has never stood for liberty and justice for all. It has at best been an unachievable ideal and at worst, blind hypocrisy.
So I have always had a problem with patriotic observances. However, given the times, and the fact that we live in a progressive community, perhaps it is time to re-think those observances.
Here we live in a community and a county right now where we grapple with the same issues that are highlighted by Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett.
Should we not show our support for their efforts with an effort of our own?
I sit with Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett, and all of the other people of color who have been marginalized in this nation. I hope our elected bodies will join me.
—David M. Greenwald reporting