Sunday, September 10, 2017

Respect The Freedom Of Protest

(Note:  On the opening day of the NFL, I wanted to share a column done by my good friend and fraternity brother (EX) Tom Loewy).

By Tom Loewy

Do you hear it?

A beat has started. Like distant thunder, somewhere just beyond our horizon. It’s the sound just before war. It’s the sound of grunts and yells backed by screams and feet falling in the rhythm of the righteous.

At its full volume, this beat will drown out reason and logic and common sense.

OK. Those three graphs sound like a Sean Bean voiceover from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” — that was promptly axed for sounding like a Sean Bean voiceover from the British comedy “Wasted.”

Let’s get just get to the point:

The National Football League is coming.

That means fantasy drafts followed by stirring visuals of jet flyovers, flags, and tons of love for the military. Throw in a heavy dose of catastrophic brain injury and hundreds of millions in profits and you’ve basically got the picture.

Along the way, a few players will take a knee during the rendition of our national anthem. Some might hold clenched fists aloft. Others will turn their backs to the image of the flag.

Our culture war will escalate. We will be told a lot of things about anthems, protest, honoring our servicemen and women, Black Lives Matter, and how supporting one idea negates the possibility of recognizing any other idea.

For those who don’t follow our annual fall ritual of professional football, Colin Kaepernick — then a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers — decided to not stand during the playing of the National Anthem before 2016 games.

He did it in support of the Black Lives Matter protests, and to raise awareness of police and authoritarian brutality toward people of color.

Kaepernick’s silent, non-violent protest during the anthem was met with outrage from a variety of police groups, some veterans’ groups, and plenty of people who claimed he was showing a lack of respect for military or police personnel.

For reasons to do with football or politics or ticket sales, Kaepernick finds himself a free agent as the 2017 football season kicks off.

Not long ago — in the wake of pro- and anti-fascist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia — I wrote a column about protecting the speech of everyone who decides to air their opinions in our public arenas.

Basically I said the freedom to peacefully assemble and speak is accorded to even the most vile — in the case of Charlottesville, Nazis and other white supremacists.

The response was overwhelming. People called. They texted. Fifty-two people took the time to sit down and write emails to me, expressing their thanks for standing up for unpopular speech.

A few dudes even walked up to me in public, explained how they rarely agree with me, then shook my hand and thanked me for the column.

Being popular is weird. I’m far more accustomed to having vulgarities hurled in my direction while I attempt to pay a bill or cross a street.

That said, let’s return to the issue of free speech as the NFL gears up for another season and grapples with showing protests during the National Anthem.

This really is easy. But let’s break down a few important issues.
 There is no law — and never should be a law or social custom — making it mandatory to stand during any rendition of the national anthem. Period.

This is a free country. That means you can sit or stand or turn your back on the flag or any ceremony. You can’t punch people. If you start yelling over the music, don’t be surprised when you’re punched. But you don’t have to do what everyone else does.

You can quietly take a knee. You can raise your fist. You can turn your back.

What Kaepernick did and other players plan to do is far more eloquent, simple and unobtrusive than any torch-bearing nationalists or bandana-wearing anti-fascists.

It follows in the footsteps of a lot of other brave folks who silently expressed their protests. More to the point, Kaepernick’s protests asked us to look at the treatment of oppressed peoples.

Lots of people will tell us the NFL has the right to enforce a code of player conduct. It does. But it doesn’t have the right to censor a player’s speech in public arenas. The vast majority of NFL games are played in publicly financed stadiums. The games are broadcast over publicly financed, regulated and protected airwaves and information systems.

The NFL doesn’t own the national anthem. If the league wants to play it, the league must leave open the possibility of silent protest.

Protesting during the anthem is a bridge too far for some. But to claim the protesters in some way besmirch servicemen and women, or the military, is to rationalize the expectation of conformity.

Conformity is easy. As I wrote before, freedom is hard.

Look, nobody has to agree with Kaepernick or any of the other players. And people can serve up all the rationale they wish.

What we can’t do is prevent Kaepernick or any other athlete from expressing his or her opinion during any rendition of a public anthem. Again, they are not interrupting its play. They are not shouting or creating a disturbance or in any way preventing others from standing.

What folks might want to do is actually listen to Kaepernick’s ideas. We might want to hit pause and find out what, exactly, what BLM advocates and hopes to accomplish.

Being a football fan is fairly easy. You can pick a team, buy a jersey and yell and scream for your side. You can join in lock-step with the righteous and claim undying loyalty.

Being a citizen of a free society isn’t easy. You see and hear things with which you don’t agree. Sometimes you hold opinions or beliefs others find idiotic.

Perhaps part of being free is a never-ending debate about what freedom means. Little can be written in stone.

As the jets fly over, the flags unfurl, and our national anthem plays again, let’s remember to reject protest is the easy way out. Let’s not demand conformity.

Let’s make that national anthem stand for something timeless. Let freedom ring.

Tom Loewy: 
(309) 343-7181, ext. 256;; 

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