COMMENTARY by Kendal Hemphill

October 25, 2016
PIKE on the Edge
October 25, 2016

Right To Be Wrong?

C olin Kaepernick’s decision to sit during the playing of the national anthem before San Francisco football games this year has further divided a nation that had already been dealing with widening gaps between political, racial, and socio-economic factions.

As more NFL players jumped onto Kaepernick’s bandwagon, the issue became incendiary, drawing statements, pro and con, from various other celebrities, politicians, and pundits. Few, it seems, remain unaffected.

Beginning his “silent protests” during the preseason, Kaepernick claims he is showing support for the people of color who are being oppressed in the United States, and taking a stand against police brutality. In a statement to the press on August 28, shortly after his protests became national news, Kaepernick said, “It’s something that can unify this team. It’s something that can unify this country.”

Kaepernick’s sit-downs have so far not created unity. His protests seem to have brought more division, distrust, and resentment. The question, then, is whether such protests do more harm than good.

In his statement to the press Kaepernick also pointed out that he has family and friends who have fought for the country, and that the ideals they fought for, such as freedom, liberty, and justice, are “not happening.” He claimed to have seen videos in which men and women who have fought for the country have come back and been “treated unjustly by the country they fought for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for.”

Few challenge Kaepernick’s right to protest what he thinks are injustices, or to sit during the playing of the national anthem. I would submit, however, that the two are not the same thing. Kaepernick is attempting to attack the current political administration by showing disrespect for our nation’s flag and song. My opinion is that the song and the flag stand for the country, whether those in positions of power represent us or not.

At least two decades ago I came across an opinion piece written by Isaac Asimov about the Star Spangled Banner. Asimov was born in Russia and immigrated to the U.S., becoming a professor of biochemistry at Boston University, and one of the most popular science fiction authors in the world. Asimov, I believe, was representative of immigrants who come to America and, through their own hard work, take advantage of the opportunities afforded here, opportunities for everyone, to make a good life for themselves.

The story was called “All Four Stanzas,” and was written at a time when there were those who wanted a different anthem. Asimov was against this idea, claiming, “I am crazy, absolutely nuts, about our national anthem.” I think that if all Americans, including Kaepernick and his fellow protestors took the time to learn the song, they wouldn’t be so quick to disrespect it, or our flag.

Written as a poem by Francis Scott Key after the battle for Fort McHenry in Baltimore, the song depicts the fight between American and British forces during the War of 1812. The battle would likely decide the war, so its outcome was hugely important. Key was on a British ship the evening the battle began, September 12, 1814, negotiating the release of his friend, an aged doctor captured in Maryland named William Beanes. The two watched all night to see which flag flew over the fort, which would tell them whether it had fallen to the British.

All night they caught glimpses of the flag, but toward morning the battle died down, and they couldn’t tell who had won. The first verse of the song asks, as Key and Beanes must have asked one another many times, “Can you still see the flag?” That verse is the only one ever sung at a sporting event. The second verse answers the question:

“On the shore dimly seen through the mist of the deep,

Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,

What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,

As it fitfully blows half conceals, half discloses?

Now it catches the gleam as the morning’s first beam,

In full glory reflected now shines on the stream.

’Tis the Star-Spangled Banner. Oh! Long may it wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

The flag of the fledgling country, less than forty years old, still flew over the fort. The mighty British had been defeated by the upstart Americans, and Key could hardly be blamed for gloating a little in the third stanza:

“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion

A home and a country should leave us no more?

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave.

And the Star-Spangled Banner in triumph doth wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Kaepernick’s sitting during the national anthem has brought him attention, no doubt, but I can find no good that has come of it. The irony is that his statements are seen as disrespectful of those who have fought to give him the right to sit during the anthem.

Sometimes just because we have a right doesn’t mean we should exercise it.

Aguila Cup, Texas Armament




Email Kendal Hemphill at [email protected]


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