Kelly: Respect each other’s rights

Tom Kelly

It is no secret that a vast and growing political divide exists among Americans.

Two notable Pew Research studies — one from 2014, the other from 2016 — show that not only has the ideological gap between Democrats and Republicans widened significantly since 2004, but also that “Partisans’ views of the opposing party are now more negative than at any point in nearly a quarter of a century.”

The bleak reality of America’s ideological divisions became vividly clear two weeks ago, when President Trump idiotically and inappropriately remarked at a rally, in reference to NFL players who have chosen to protest racial inequality during the playing of the national anthem before each game, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners when somebody disrespects our flag to say get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired, he’s fired.”

In response, a considerable amount of NFL players — who, for the most part, had not publicly protested in the past — knelt during the playing of the national anthem before various games the following Sunday.

Many arguments have been made both for and against the protests. But the debate over whether or not players kneeling during the anthem is justifiable has been blown out of proportion due to some members of both the political right and the political left leveraging dishonest and absurd arguments for their respective stances on the issue.

The truth is that most Americans believe that NFL players should stand during the national anthem, but that a majority also believe that players should not be fired for protesting.

It’s against this backdrop of relative agreement on potential consequences for players who choose to protest that one point should be noted: one of the main reasons there is such fierce debate surrounding the issue of the NFL protests is that President Trump felt it necessary not only to criticize NFL players for protesting, but also to call for them to be fired — and many Republicans have backed him.

Arguing that players should simply protest at a different time, or in a different manner, is a fair argument which has nothing to do with players’ patriotism, or their right to peacefully protest.

But, for those who have — justifiably — pushed back against the gradual fusion of politics and sports, and who have argued in the past that one’s personal beliefs alone should not be grounds for his or her firing, it is intellectually dishonest to not only deny that President Trump overtly injected politics into sports, but also to agree with Trump that players who choose to protest should be fired.

Also, while it is true that Colin Kaepernick initially took a knee because he refused “to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” members of the Right should not assume that every player who knelt or locked arms with his teammates the Sunday after Trump’s comments hates America, or everything that the American flag represents. 

Conversely, on the Left, it would be more productive to lay out an argument detailing how racial minorities are discriminated against in the United States, and how this discrimination ties into players specifically choosing to protest during the playing of the national anthem.

However, it is foolish of members of the Left to argue that the American flag is solely a symbol of oppression, despite its presence, for instance, as the United States Colored Troops fought the Confederate States Army, and often during Civil Rights demonstrations in the 1960’s. It is also foolish to argue that President Trump is a racist, who only opposes the protests because most of the players who have knelt during the playing of the national anthem — and most of the players in the NFL — are African-American. 

For all of Trump’s inconsistencies, he has certainly been an “equal-opportunity offender.” That goes for people of nearly all races, people who subscribe to a broad range of political ideologies, and even members of his own administration.

At the very least, the Right should accept that players have the right to peacefully protest, something most Americans agree on, and should not be fired for holding certain beliefs — once a conservative conviction. The Left should accept that people who object to the protests are entitled to their own opinions, and that the argument which suggests that NFL players protest in a different manner, or simply at some time other than during the playing of the national anthem, has little to do with the players or the reasoning for the protests.

It is up to us to resist the urge to only apply certain standards to those with whom we agree on social and political issues, and to exhibit a willingness to make dishonest arguments, or simultaneously make antithetical arguments, simply to defend a politician or position we prefer. That goes for proponents and opponents of the protests alike. If we wish to mend the social fabric, and seek unity rather than division, then it is incumbent upon each of us to be honest, and to see each other as fellow Americans, not members of a political party or some identity group, respecting each other’s rights in spite of disagreement.