I am fascinated by the current discussion--which description may be giving the participants greater honor than their words deserve--about athletes "taking a knee" during the playing of the national anthem. Though the great emotional charge of black citizens killed by police transfers easily to any event even loosely connected to it, that intensity is not what keeps my attention.
I am already convinced that race relations in our country require continued, sustained attention. I am already convinced that I am not competent to comment on the employer-employee relationship between athletes and their management (and the restrictions that may be there).
I keep chewing on the question of whether it is ultimately good for Megan Rapinoe, Colin Kaepernick, and their colleagues to express social protest in this way. Is their expression "disrespectful"? And, if so, what should I make of it?
Those following the story will be familiar with the response of--to name one thoughtful and outspoken commentator--Bill O'Reilly, which points out flaws in Kaepernick's protest. Most of the same observers will also be familiar with the response of Hrafnkell Haraldsson, which furthers the discussion by suggesting flaws in O'Reilly's argument.
I do not know whether Kaepernick's action was "disrespectful." I do suspect that this judgment arises entirely from personal opinion rather than arguable grounds. As for the goodness of the gesture, I am reminded of some words of John Stuart Mill, whose philosophical work On Liberty seems to resonate with the very ideals for which the American flag stands. He wrote:
"The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error" (On Liberty, Chapter 2, Leonardo's kindle version location 289).
Kaepernick's action will serve, I hope, to keep up the conversation about race relations in our country. It will also spark thoughtful conversations about the right ways and proper fora in which to protest: conversations that will ring in high school locker rooms, living rooms, and perhaps even on morning news shows. Some may decide kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful; some may decide not to condemn it, but never to do it; some may be challenged to consider what problem might trouble them so deeply that the act would be worth the public scorn. And all those conversations, all those decisions, will touch on the matter of freedom, giving us a "clearer perception and livelier impression of truth."
Thank you, Mr. Kaepernick, Ms. Rapinoe, and so many others, for driving us to consider the issues that really matter.