Kevin Haskin: Protests around NFL a cause for introspection

Effects of freedom tests the mind and the soul

On Sunday, attention was diverted from mere football.

 

The national anthem, the United States flag, freedom, oppression, justice, injustice and the soul of a country our president promised to unite, but seems intent to divide, were foremost on the minds of Americans.

Representatives for teams throughout the NFL chose how to react during the playing of the anthem. They were put on watch by Donald Trump and his comments critical of league owners for allowing players to kneel in protest during the anthem, and critical of players who choose to exercise those feelings.

In response, players, coaches and owners issued statements, stood, sat, kneeled, locked arms or remained in the locker room during the playing of the anthem.

Some argued Trump should stick to more important issues outside the realm of sports.

The president’s remarks, however, unintentionally shed some light on inequalities NFL players are protesting.

For me, the varied expressions on Sunday prompted a level of introspection over what “The Star-Spangled Banner” means.

Sometimes I look at my watch during an exceedingly long anthem. Sometimes I cringe over a makeshift rendition. Sometimes I marvel at how a performer hits every note, be it with a voice or a horn.

At Washburn, military veterans are encouraged to salute the flag. I feel grateful to those in the stands who do just that and served our country with valor.

At Kansas, alums, students, even national entertainers, perform the anthem at midcourt. It is one of my favorite moments, the calm before the frenzied storm inside Allen Fieldhouse.

At Kansas State, a patriotic narration precedes the marching band’s playing of the anthem at football games and, quite frankly, still gives me chills on occasion.

At NFL games in Arrowhead Stadium, I hear fans yell “Chiefs’’ at the conclusion of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and wonder whether that can be considered as disrespectful as someone refusing to stand.

I have listened as the majority of fans — particularly in San Diego, with its naval heritage, but now no NFL team — sang along.

I watched at Owen Field in windy Norman as a flag the length of the turf began to elude the grasp of OU faithful holding it before K-State players, coming out for the coin toss, offered to assist.

I left the press box at K-State to be among the crowd and in a sense, heal, when the anthem was played at the first sporting event I attended following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

I spent time listening at home as my daughter practiced the anthem, then watched as she happily, yet nervously, sang in high school before a basketball game.

Just last month, I visited with a Topekan before he played the anthem on his trumpet at Kauffman Stadium and proudly fulfilled a prediction his father, a major-league pitcher, made years earlier.

Mostly, though, I stand, respect those who bear the stars and stripes, face the flag, listen and then turn my attention to covering a sporting event. I have heard the anthem performed, uneventfully, many times, many ways and in many places.

Some do not get the opportunity. College football teams, for example, go through final preparations in the locker room while the anthem is played.

I have wondered why professional sports leagues, and in particular the NFL, do not incorporate such timing. I have even wondered why the anthem is performed at all.

On Sunday, though, what played out at NFL stadiums made me pause and ponder.

As far back as the 1968 Olympics, when Americans Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists and staged their peaceful political protest on the medal stand. Also, to 2016, when Colin Kaepernick, now a former NFL quarterback, began kneeling during the anthem.

I will continue to stand during the anthem and respect the flag. I also realize American issues under protest are more complex than a song, or a flag. And, I realize American soldiers bravely fought for principles greater than a song, or a flag.

I will respect the freedoms those who served our country have helped protect.

Which means I will respect the freedoms of players who chose to kneel on Sunday, and the freedoms of fans who booed such demonstrations.

Freedom is sacred, and indeed tests our minds and our souls.

Contact Kevin Haskin at kevin.haskin@cjonline.com or @KevinHaskin on Twitter.

 

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