By Ken Reed
Drew Brees’ recent comments about his belief that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespecting the flag, the military and war vets caused an uproar far beyond the world of sports in this country.
Brees strongly believes that kneeling during the anthem is disrespectful to the flag and what it stands for.
I’ll get back to Brees in a minute, but I think there are a couple relevant questions here: 1) What exactly does the flag stand for? and 2) Are there a number of ways Americans are disrespecting the flag?
As I’ve written before, I think the flag represents American ideals, many outlined in some of our most important documents. For example: From our Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” From our Constitution: To “establish justice” From our Pledge of Allegiance: “… with liberty and justice for all …” From the First Amendment: “… freedom of speech …”
As a country, we fall well short of those ideals on a regular basis. So, can’t it be argued that we are disrespecting the flag every time we do so?
If Drew Brees wants to publicly state that he believes kneeling during the anthem is disrespecting the flag so be it. That’s his First Amendment right and I don’t think he should be told to “shut the f-up” for expressing his thoughts. That gets us nowhere.
Personally, I think Brees’ comments showed a lack of awareness about what the Colin Kaepernick kneeling protests were all about (police brutality and social injustice; not the flag, the military or war vets) and a lack of sensitivity to the concerns of black Americans, including many of his teammates.
And I would point out to Mr. Brees that there are a lot of things Americans do that I — and many Americans — believe are disrespectful to the flag, and the American ideals it represents.
Marcus Thompson II had a very thoughtful essay in The Athletic the other day. In part of it, he took a deep dive into this whole “disrespecting the flag” issue. Here are some of his points:
“[T]here is a huge contingent of military people who don’t believe taking a knee for the flag is disrespectful to the military. There is a large base of people in the military who see the same movement Colin Kaepernick took a knee for as an extension of the fight they’ve waged in the military. Yes, people in the military fight against racial injustice. They serve for an America they wish to see, one that is truly equal. …
“Anything that violates the ideals of the flag disrespects the flag. Police brutality is disrespectful to the flag. Redlining is disrespectful to the flag. Unfair school funding is disrespectful to the flag. Voter suppression is disrespectful to the flag. …
“This list could on and on. Nobody is telling Brees and the like to not respect the flag. Don’t be deceived — black people love the ideals of the flag. We have as much invested in that flag as anyone else in this country. You’d be hard-pressed to find a black person in this country who doesn’t have proud veterans on their family tree. Do you think for one second if the ideologies the flag is supposed to represent were somehow realized, black people wouldn’t be elated? Yes, hold the ideals of the flag high. Celebrate them. Revere them. Please. But actually do this and not just symbolically. …
“I know Brees apologized. I hope that doesn’t mean silencing his rampant fervor for America and the military. I hope it means him expanding the scope of the disrespect with which he won’t agree.”
Right on Marcus. Let’s not spend energy trying to silence Drew Brees and the people that have a similar perspective. That’s antithetical to the First Amendment and will only inflame tensions and make the situation worse. Instead, let’s try to continually increase their awareness of the plight and pain of black Americans. And as Thompson II suggests, let’s educate them about the many ways we are falling short of our American ideals in this country, and disrespecting the flag in the process.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a long-time member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
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Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Episode #26 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: How Can We Fix Youth Sports? – John O’Sullivan is Founder and CEO of Changing the Game Project and author of “Changing the Game: The Parents Guide to Raising Happy, High Performing Athletes and Giving Youth Sports Back to Our Kids.”
Episode #25 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Physical Education Should Be a Critical Component of K-12 School Design – Michael Horn is co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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