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By Robert Brescia
October 4, 2016
In this column, I express my humble but considered opinion on the political flap of San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick’s not standing for our national anthem at National Football League (NFL) games. I’ll try to set forth an opinion that you may not have heard elsewhere—if that’s possible!
First—there is nothing that I can find in U.S. code prescribing a legal obligation to stand for the national anthem. It’s a time-honored tradition and American value. We love our country and we are proud to stand when our anthem is played. Just consider the many Olympic Games where world nations assemble on the friendly fields of competition. We strongly demonstrate our love of country during those moments.
Here’s an extract from the applicable law—36 U.S. Code § 301 - national anthem:
The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
(b) Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—
(1) when the flag is displayed—
(C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
(2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.
The operative word there is should. Therefore, it is a lot weaker than shall or will, which of course would indicate an obligation to do so. In my opinion, a person is not breaking the law by refusing to stand and place his hand over his heart for the national anthem.
Here’s where the complicated part comes in—not standing may run afoul of administrative requirements of professional organizations, commercial enterprises, or other types of organizations. For example, if the NFL has a requirement that all of its players must stand for the national anthem, then those who do not would be subject to whatever sanction that the NFL provides in that case. To be even more sure of that, the requirement could be made part of the player’s employment contract. This is entirely possible because such a contract does not stand in contradiction to any law.
Every Tuesday morning, I attend a Rotary International meeting. It’s hard to conceive that the Rotary would be happy with my continued membership if I refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance to both the U.S. and Texas flags. They wouldn’t care what my reasons were—I would be asked to just discontinue my Rotary affiliation.
In summary, Kaepernick doesn’t appear to be in violation of any U.S. law or NFL administrative requirement. He is, however, in extreme opposition to our American values to render respect to our nation and all those who fought, were wounded or gave their lives for it. His actions fly in the face of what we know to be right as citizens. I am disappointed in his actions for those reasons. He is not a role model for anyone. I suspect that like many young people, he is another victim of revisionist history or just totally ignorant of U.S. history in general.
I recommend that he start rendering service to others in the community so that he can start to focus on things other than himself. We certainly get into big trouble in life when we begin to be #1 fan in our own fan club. For example, he could help veterans in the hospitals or facilities where they suffer from war injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). These brave men and women don’t earn the millions of dollars that he does every year. They are among the greatest Americans and most suitable role models that we have. Maybe he would gain a whole new perspective on life and our nation. But if Kaepernick still decides to “take a knee” during the national anthem, perhaps he could get on both his knees and pray for those in harm’s way, protecting his right to throw a ball and earn his living in our great America.
Professional sports franchises – it’s time to take your responsibilities seriously and decide what your American standards will be—so that we can decide to watch or turn to another channel. You saw fit to restrict exaggerated touchdown dances by players. Will you stand for the nation that provides your “playing field?”
Author: Bob Brescia serves as the executive director of the John Ben Shepperd Public Leadership Institute. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. He also serves as chairman of the board of Basin Public Broadcasting Service. Email: [email protected] or Twitter: @Robert_Brescia.