I wasn’t going to say anything here about the NFL kerfuffle, because a) I haven’t watched a football game in decades and b) the whole issue of patriotism is such a mess you’d need to start with “first let me hear your definition of patriotism,” and c) exactly who gives a damn about what-all football players do? I’m told that except for Superbowls the TV doesn’t broadcast the national anthem part of the games anyway, so how did this suddenly get so important?
And yet it matters. I suppose.
Standing for the anthem is the new counterculture
So here’s my secret shame – I sort of sympathize with the kneelers. Not a lot, but some.
When I was a little boy, every morning whichever public school class I happened to be in was supposed to stand up, put our hands over our hearts, and recite the pledge of allegiance. Maybe you remember it. I did that without thinking for a few years, and “without thinking” is precisely the way we were all taught to do it. The words, I promise, carry no meaning whatever to a 7-year-old boy. But when I got old enough to actually analyze the words on any level at all, I became very uncomfortable.
Maybe it was the Heinlein reader in me – at first it was just the logic of the words. Pledging allegiance to a flag – a piece of cloth, a symbol, made no sense to me semantically. At some point I must have looked up the word Allegiance, since it was never defined in any elementary school class I recall. I was signing over not only my conscience but also my fair young body – Viet Nam was ramping up, though I didn’t take notice of the fact till later – to people who, I was assured, were wiser, better educated and informed, and in all ways better able to make important decisions than I was. Even before it came clear to me that virtually all of that was a lie, and that the last phrase – “liberty and justice for all of whom exactly?” – was a cruel joke, I was made very uncomfortable by the pledge of allegiance.
So I began wanting to sit it out. Technically this was usually permitted. But actions have consequences – particularly conspicuous actions like remaining seated while all the other kids stand up, assume the position, and drone out the recitation. At a minimum it was very uncomfortable. If the teacher happened to feel strongly on the matter, and some did, “technically permitted” became effectively forbidden. Then the consequences ran from public shaming to spanking with a paddle. I wasn’t always consistently strong-minded on the issue but I did wonder: If I go ahead and say the words, forced and without conviction, does God or whoever’s keeping score still hold me to it?
All in all, I can’t get excited either way when a bunch of conspicuously non-oppressed millionaire football players do what I at least wished to do at seven years old. I may continue to disagree with their stated reasons for doing it.