Many diverse opinions have been shared — God bless America, and the right for all Americans to express those opinions — over the standing or not standing for the national anthem before sporting events.
I love the fact that many people want to stand to honor the country at the playing of the anthem and what it, at least in theory, stands for. I also respect the fact that people who feel so compelled can take a knee as a statement of concern over troubling issues such as racism.
No problem here that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva, a West Point graduate and former Army Ranger, comes out of the tunnel to stand with his hand over his heart during the anthem while his teammates stay behind, unwilling to come out.
It’s a beautiful thing that the most powerful government in the world can be served notice by a group of football players locking arms before a game, football players who, according to the most powerful man on the planet, might be “sons of b------,” but, to anyone with eyes to see, they are SOBs who are proud and strong and free to think for themselves, to protest if they so choose.
It’s not what I would do, but it is what they would do.
Over the past four decades of my professional life, I’ve heard the anthem played thousands and thousands of times, times when it was done and observed by crowds casually, almost routinely, sleepily, and times when it stirred fans to tears. I’ll never forget, after 9/11 when the Mormon Tabernacle Choir took the floor at what was then the Delta Center at a Jazz game and sang in a way that touched darn near everybody.
Or watching on television as the anthem was sung by Rene Rancourt before the first Boston Bruins game after the marathon bombings. Rancourt started in on the song and then … and then … the crowd took over, allowing that city to think hard and express earnestly its feeling for its country after such a trial.
We all have our own thoughts about the anthem, about our country, about its strengths and its weaknesses. And we can respond as we deem right.
For me, personally, I prefer the anthem to be a unifying time when 19,000 or 50,0000 or 100,000 spectators from all kinds of backgrounds can honor America and ponder the things that are right about it. And there are a lot of things that are right. And there are a lot of men and women who have sacrificed to make sure those things are preserved.
Anybody who ever has walked the grounds of Normandy or Arlington or Valley Forge or Gettysburg or stood over the submerged remains of the battleship Arizona knows the humbling feeling of properly noting such sacrifice.
There are a whole lot of opportunities for us to properly disagree on issues and, more importantly, solve the problems that plague the country. Racism is and always has been pathetic, the symptom of limited minds and hateful ignorance and, sometimes, woeful apathy. In a free society, it should be loathed and eradicated by means far beyond kneeling at a football game.
At a divisive time when only unity, arrived at from a hundred different roads, will solve the country’s biggest troubles, it’s helpful to take a minute before a game to remember what does unify us, the good that has been sacrificed for and achieved.
Standing for the national anthem does not signify apathetic satisfaction or complacent acknowledgement that all is well. Just as kneeling for it does not signify radical dissent that all is wrong. The patriotic can do either, as can the unpatriotic.
But it is a chance, at least from this point of view, to come together for just a minute or two to consider what’s honorable and good, what goes beyond ourselves, girding us up to tackle the country’s challenges, even as we argue over important details, understanding that through a diversity of thought a greater good can be found.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Spence Checketts weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.