An NFL quarterback's decision to sit down during the national anthem has irritated many Americans, though many in the media have applauded him for it. Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers said he was doing so as a symbolic protest against injustice in America.
"I'll continue to sit. I'm going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change, and when there's significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it's supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it's supposed to, I'll stand," he said.
He added: "There's a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There's people being murdered unjustly and [no one is] being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That's not right. That's not right by anyone's standards."
Kaepernick has worn socks on the field depicting police officers as pigs.
The knee-jerk reaction was to wonder what he is complaining about.
This fabulously wealthy 28-year-old makes about $19 million a year as a backup quarterback, part of a six-year, $114 million deal, on top of receiving adulation few mortals ever experience.
He lives in a country where tremendous strides against racism have been made and where minorities enjoy boundless opportunities to get ahead, even to rise to the White House.
And he lives under a Constitution that — from the standpoint of law, at least — guarantees each citizen freedom, justice and self-government.
This Constitution was defended, and rendered more perfect, at the price of terrible sacrifice and bloodshed, and it embodies a form of governance that Abraham Lincoln aptly described as "the last best hope of Earth."
That is one reason Americans tend to honor the flag.
Still, we join with those who say Kaepernick has every right to use his prominence to make a statement, even if he does represent a corporate entity.
It is in society's interest that citizens enjoy a wide range of speech, with a right to express opinions about political issues without being demoted, fired or blacklisted.
There may be limits to this, of course. Police officers, for example, may not be permitted the latitude a famous athlete has, since their public statements are taken to represent the values of the force.
Moreover, Kaepernick's protest draws attention to a vitally important issue: the use of police powers, and whether justice in America is being administered fairly, with the same standards applied to the powerful as to the weak.
It seems clear that in many cases it is not.
For a number of reasons, far too many black American men wind up dead or imprisoned. We must work together to find a different path through education and opportunity.
This work will require more than symbolic protests. We will have to communicate with each other, rather than simply shouting at each other.
Police do seem to be doing a much better job in reaching out to the communities they serve.
Citizens should strive to read up about the challenges police face in neighborhoods plagued by guns and violence, and search for facts rather than merely mouth slogans.
Mutual respect and open communication are essential to moving forward. Which is why Kaepernick should not be shouted down.
The Providence Journal (R.I.), Sept. 7.