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Are Protesting and Disrespect the Same Thing in NFL Ruckus?

Updated on September 29, 2017

In another lots-of-heat-but-little-light firestorm under the Trump administration, the NFL #TakeAKnee ruckus should provide us with a teachable moment which should not be lost. There is anger on both sides, but not much communication and certainly not much understanding. The question boils down to this: is protest the same as disrespect? And if not, why not?

NFL players and a widening circle of sports figures are coming forward and insisting that the message of taking a knee during the national anthem is not one of disrespect. Those on the other side, who think the players who refuse to stand for the anthem should be fired as Trump suggested, are quick to invoke the sacrifices of veterans and service members as if the players meant to disrespect them as well.

The result is the national mosh pit which breaks down largely along regional, cultural, and educational lines. However many times the players insist that their gesture of protest is not meant to convey disrespect, dimmer lights have difficulty hearing them, or understanding them, or even caring about what they have to say.

This is the nature of the mob in the throes of patriotic fury. People are ready to cast their own mothers to the lions should they refuse to partake in the tribal chant, loudly enough, lustily enough, or without sufficient emotion.

But are a country, a national anthem, and respect for veterans all the same? Many veterans have spoken out and said they are on the kneeling protesters' side, said they are not the least bit offended.

How is that? How can you not be offended when someone is spitting in your face? Or are they spitting in their face? If someone explains to me that certain actions, like not standing for the national anthem, are not in any way meant as disrespect toward me, I'm inclined to believe them.

But the drumbeat continues. You NFL players should all go to Afghanistan for a tour and see what it's like to fight for your freedom to play football. Huh? When did the Taliban ever tell me I couldn't play football? Now it's getting ridiculous.

So those who know the political playbook as well as NFL players know their ground game sit back knowing exactly where the Patriotism triple reverse is going to go, predictably, with the precision that Tom Brady hits his man two yards from the end zone. There is no guesswork. It works every time.

The best that can come of it, the teachable moment, is in understanding words that the Founding Fathers based the First Amendment on. The words are a marvel of nuance, rather than the linear, reductionist form thought favored by tyrants and idiots. I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Even if that constitutes, in my mind, disrespect. That is what America is about. Not a song.

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