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Right direction | The American flag and national anthem, protected by law

1. DISRESPECT for the national values

On Monday, October 22, 2018, during a Houston, Texas massive rally of over 100,000 people, President Donald Trump re-emphasized the fact that we, the Americans, “kneel in prayer and we stand in front of our National Flag,” not the other way around.

The debate regarding the kneeling in front of the American flag, when national anthem is played, by some American athletes and teams of professional players has been going on for more than a year already.

Tiberiu Dianu

In September 2017, President Trump addressed in several tweets the issue of the American flag and national anthem being disrespected on the sports fields. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/24/sports/nfl-trump-anthem-protests.html?mcubz=3

He advocated that the athletes (in particular, of the National Football League/NFL) should be fired or suspended if they fail to stand up for the national anthem. https://media3.s-nbcnews.com/j/msnbc/components/video/201709/tdy_news_melvin_nfl_trump_170925_1920x1080.nbcnews-ux-1080-600.jpg

Many teams and players of the football, basketball, and baseball leagues reacted to the president’s remarks by kneeling, locking arms, or remaining in the locker room during the performance of the anthem. http://www.trbimg.com/img-59cda450/turbine/ct-bears-packers-national-anthem-20170928

In October 2017, Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an NFL game in his native Indiana, between Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers, when players from the 49ers disrespected the American flag by kneeling during the national anthem. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/10/09/pence-walks-out-nfl-game-and-sports-journalists-loses-their-collective-minds.html

This controversy began in 2016. The NFL San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick sat during the pre-game anthem for three games beginning on August 14, 2016, and then began taking a knee in games beginning on September 1, 2016. He explained his position as a gesture to protest racial discrimination, especially at the hands of police, referencing a series of events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement. His conversion to social activism coincided with his romancing Nessa Diab since July 2015. Nessa, a radio and TV personality of Egyptian descent, has spoken frequently about perceived racial injustices and islamophobia in the U.S. http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2016/08/30/kaepernick-social-media-posts-laud-black-lives-matter-black-panthers-since-dating-activist-dj.html

As usually, the mainstream media has tried to make this issue again about President Trump. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/09/30/nfl-anthem-protests-are-more-popular-than-trumps-crusade-heres-why-he-doesnt-care/?utm_term=.2ce349a849aa

And, as usually, the media was wrong. Disrespecting the American flag and national anthem by some overpaid arrogant players is an issue that concerns, first, all of us, as an American nation, and second, the fan base of the respective teams. The president hasn’t done more than voicing this general concern. Disrespecting national values, like the American flag and anthem, if left unsanctioned, will lead to eroding the moral fiber of the entire nation.

Therefore, there are several points that need to be clarified.

2. The First Amendment

The media, players, and their advocates claim that kneeling or locking arms during the national anthem is “protected speech” covered by the First Amendment. This assertion is false.

First, the First Amendment bars Congress from “abridging the [emphases added] freedom of speech, or of the press…” In 1993, U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens emphasized the usage of the definite article “the” to immunize a previously identified category or subset of speech, otherwise “the clause might absurdly immunize things like false testimony under oath,” which is against the law (see: Stevens, John Paul, “The Freedom of Speech” in: Yale Law Journal, 1993, vol. 102, p. 1296). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution

Likewise, the American flag and national anthem are protected by law, as shown below, and therefore the disrespecting acts must be punished accordingly.

Second, the First Amendment covers government interference with speech. People have freedom of speech as persons, not while functioning as employees, during their working time. Nobody wants retailers protesting while customers buy things, or teachers protesting while they teach, or doctors while they examine their patients, or police while they apprehend offenders. And definitely, nobody wants our military protesting while they fight for the country. Similarly, sports fans do not want athletes protesting during the sports events that the fans paid for.

3. Laws and regulations

Many people think that the American flag and national anthem are not protected or regulated by law, nor they should be. This assertion is false.

On the contrary, there are specific laws and regulations for both the flag, and the anthem. These laws and regulations on patriotic customs stipulate that, during rendition of the national anthem when the flag is displayed, all present, except those in uniform, should stand at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.

The hand-over-the heart gesture is a modification of the Bellamy salute, a right-hand-extended movement that was used in the late 1800s and early 1900s while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, which was created by Francis Bellamy.

In the early 1920s, the Bellamy salute was modified to the hand over the heart, in order to not resemble too much the similar salutes practiced in fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. In 1942, the flag code was approved during the F. D. Roosevelt administration. https://medium.com/@tdianu/olympians-gladiators-and-self-victimizing-athletes-de6c635b8b36

The U.S. code (Titles 4 and 36) specifies the circumstances for rendering the hand-over-heart salute. Thus, “[t]he Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag […] should be rendered by standing at attention facing the flag with the right hand over the heart.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/4/4

Also: “During a rendition of the national anthem (1) when the flag is displayed […] (C) all other persons present [not in uniform – our note, T.D.] should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart […]” https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/36/301

As for regulations, the NFL Rule Book and Game Operation Manual specify that the anthem “must be played prior to every NFL game, and all players must be on the sideline for the National Anthem,” standing, facing the flag, helmets in left hands.

Consequently, sanctions shall be imposed for protesting during the anthem. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/sep/25/short-history-national-anthem-and-sports/

After being faced with harsh criticism and rejection from their fans, who began either cancelling their game attendance and cable subscriptions, or tearing tickets and burning players’ jerseys, the NBA top executives have found eventually a “rule that requires our players to stand for the anthem.” https://sports.yahoo.com/report-nba-issues-memo-urging-teams-stand-national-anthem-023852614.html?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma

The United States of America is a nation of laws. When national anthem is played, Americans stand in front of the flag. Protesters are missing the point. They are free to protest, but not by disobeying the law, otherwise they face consequences.

4. Kneeling or praying?

The consequences appeared, while the protest supporters quickly changed their tune, trying to have it both ways. It’s not about “kneeling” anymore, they say, but “praying.”

Watch Jack Brewer, the former NFL Safety, in full swing at the FOX News Watters’s World show of September 30, 2017: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rt0KC9IjZY

The problem is that Americans don’t kneel for anybody who is not God, because they have never had a king or queen. Can you imagine our military kneeling and praying during the national anthem?

In 1996, the National Basketball Association  suspended the Denver Nuggets’ Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, an Islam convert, for his praying and refusal to stand during the national anthem.

In 2011, the former American football quarterback and current baseball outfielder Tim Tebow kneeled in prayer on the game field, but not during the national anthem, and his gesture has since been referred to as “Tebowing.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Tebow

Back then, the leftist media went ballistic, since Tebow was known as having conservative values, being outspoken about his Christian faith, being pro-life, and holding a firm stance in favor of faith-based abstinence. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/09/24/colin-kaepernick-vs-tim-tebow-a-tale-of-two-christianities-on-its-knees/?utm_term=.e6c59e37ac4f

But Tebow, unlike Kaepernick, did not fit the media’s favorite narrative about “social justice” so he had to be castigated.

5. Sports and politics

Sports fans do not care about politics when they watch a game. Players are entertainers, not politicians, as sports is entertainment, not a political debate forum. The left try to inject “social justice” problems in sports and, in turn, what they got from the patriotic sports fans was a taste of their own medicine.

The protesting players have attempted to mirror the fans as racist and uneducated, when most of them simply are not. When NBA all-star LeBron James insults a large percentage of his fans, saying that “a lot of people was [sic!] uneducated” because of their political affiliations, he has shown the NFL the recipe for disaster. http://www.dailywire.com/news/21544/lebron-james-uneducated-people-voted-trump-paul-bois#

The truth of the matter is that LeBron should be the last one to speak about “education.” He is a 6 ft 8 in (2.03 m), 260 lb (118 kg), 30-million salary per year high school graduate basketball player who probably spent his first ten years in a kindergarten where everybody thought he was the teacher.

The fans enjoy paying respect to the country by standing and listening to the anthem in front of the national flag, not because they are racist or uneducated, but because they are Americans. They don’t watch sporting events because the athletes are famous for their wisdom, but because games are an entertaining pastime, which the country can most certainly survive without.

6. Black athletes and the American symbols

Truth be told, black players predominate in some U.S. major leagues. https://d3i6fh83elv35t.cloudfront.net/newshour/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/RTS1DPHD-1024x683.jpg

These players have found that protesting the flag and anthem is something that irritates white people. https://www.metro.us/sites/default/files/main/articles/nfl-national-anthem-take-a-knee.jpg

The problem is that most of their fan base, who actually pay their astronomic salaries, is white, so the protesters have chosen the wrong “enemy” to fight against. http://media.breitbart.com/media/2017/09/American-Flag-Sign-NFL-Sept-25-2017-AP-640x480.jpg

Unfortunately, American sports history has a long list of black athletes disrespecting the American flag and national anthem.

In 1968, during the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, the track athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos used the black power salute and were suspended by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

In 1972, during the Summer Olympics in Munich, the track athletes Wayne Collett and Vince Matthews did not face the flag, they stood casually, hands on hips, their jackets unzipped, they chatted, and were barred from the Olympics.

In 1973, fans went agitated and furious when some Eastern Michigan University runners continued to warm up on the floor, while others were laying on the ground during the national anthem.

In 1996, the basketball player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf https://cdn-images-1.medium.com/max/800/1*DLOjs-5uqkBeY74xBOh_NA.jpeg refused to stand during the national anthem and was suspended from the NBA. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/25/sports/national-anthem-protests-black-athletes.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0

Jackie Robinson, the baseball player who broke the color line in 1947, wrote in his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made: “As I write this twenty years later, I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world.” http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/sep/25/short-history-national-anthem-and-sports/

7. Football vs. soccer

Protesting the American flag and national anthem by players from the NFL and other major leagues will have devastating effects for the teams, players and their owners in the foreseeable future. Disrespect for the national symbols of the country has awaken a sleeping giant. Many Americans have lost already their patience and will stop sponsoring these types of events.

American football is a sport played only in North America, and its fan base is limited (400 million), compared with soccer (3.5 billion) or other sports. http://www.topendsports.com/world/lists/popular-sport/fans.htm

In addition to that, the basis of the NFL’s league structure, like other North American majors (NBA, MLB, and NHL), is monopolistic and, basically, anti-commerce. It’s a closed league, which controls how many teams are allowed to compete, who can own the teams, and where the teams can be located. Revenue sharing and TV money ensure high and constant cash flows, which are redistributed evenly, in a socialist manner, between teams, including the ones performing poorly. Therefore, in this closed system, owners are not incentivized to promote better ideas or win, since the teams are in an artificial bubble of profits.

By contrast, soccer is based on meritocracy (the winning clubs move up the divisional ladder), has much simpler rules, and the clubs can be formed irrespective of who the owners are, how much money  they have, or the team geographical location. http://www.complex.com/sports/2013/09/the-nfl-vs-soccer-which-version-of-football-reigns-supreme/

When the NFL no longer televises its games because of the protests, and the sponsors stop sponsoring, the owners cannot afford to secure the salaries of their players anymore. The athletes cannot go to another country, like the soccer players usually do, and get paid millions for a sport that exists just in North America. The American public has realized already that these arrogant, overpaid, and often illiterate prima donnas (Kaepernick is no Copernicus) are not entertaining anymore, but have just become offensive.

Most probably, after seeing Americans siding with President Trump against the players’ protests, the U.S. major leagues will think again before concocting a new challenge.

Tiberiu Dianu has published several books and a host of articles in law, politics, and post-communist societies. He currently lives and works in Washington, D.C., and can be followed on Medium. https://medium.com/@tdianu