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


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