What’s the subject again?

Published 7:36 pm Monday, October 3, 2016

This weekend some members of the East Carolina University marching band weighed in on the issue of inequality in the U.S. by dropping to one knee during the national anthem.

The sight prompted immediate, resounding “boos” from the crowd. Many were offended by what can be viewed as an insult to the American flag and the ideas for which it stands, and rightly so.

One of those ideas is freedom of speech.

Many consider the American flag as sacred, yet just as sacred to the American way, however, is the right to protest, even when the protest is considered offensive.

This protest appears to create a great disconnect between the reaction to the protest and the point that’s trying to be made.
It’s easy to point a finger and judge the actions of those band members: disrespectful and unpatriotic; to lump everyone together as unsupportive of military, law enforcement, their sacrifices and more.
It’s much harder to ask why: why are they doing this?

Some have argued that football games are not the right venue for such a protest. The question then follows: what venue would be appropriate? Unfortunately, without an “in-your-face” element to protest, it’s all too easy to avoid deeper discussion about racial inequality and simply stick with the status quo.

A couple of weeks ago, during a press conference, Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney was asked how he felt about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee on the field in silent protest for what he believes is pervasive, institutionalized racism in the U.S. The monologue that resulted was in many ways a thing of beauty. For 13 minutes, Swinney spoke about equality; he spoke about love and nonjudgment; expressed admiration for Martin Luther King Jr. in the change he enacted through nonviolence and peace, while simultaneously making it clear that he disagreed with Kaepernick’s method, calling it a distraction. Swinney also implied that all was OK, because black people are much better off now than in that dark time in America’s history — right or wrong, that’s his opinion, and he has a right to express it.
Without Kaepernick taking a knee, without various people taking that cue and doing the same, does Dabo Swinney get the opportunity to talk about equality in a public forum for 13 minutes? Does his influential view get any airtime at all? Likely not.

While this form of protest is a distraction to what’s happening on the field — football — if it doesn’t generate a response, like Swinney’s, where does the conversation go?

Nowhere. It goes absolutely nowhere.

Divisive, destructive, a distraction — yes, it could be considered all those things, but as long as that action keeps the issue front and center, it remains a topic of conversation.

It is, however, up to each and every individual to decide what the actual topic of conversation is: disrespect and lack of patriotism or racial inequality in America.