Americans were powerfully reminded this weekend that the nation’s guarantee of free speech remains a fundamental, inalienable right for all.
Many professional football players — including several Miami Dolphins — locked arms, took a knee, sat or raised a fist during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner” before their Sunday games.
Coaches and some team owners, includign Stephen Ross, issued statements or gave interviews supporting the players’ actions.
It wasn’t just professional football. At least one baseball player took a knee during the anthem. Professional basketball players insisted on their right to be heard.
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It was all a stunning and necessary rebuke to President Donald Trump, who decided Friday to launch a divisive, racially-tinged argument over the flag and the anthem.
“Find something else to do!” Trump tweeted at protesting athletes. If only he would take his own advice. One would think as the Republicans upteeth effort to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act, that he would have more importat things to do that pick a fight.
Instead, we are now locked in yet another dismal battle in the culture wars, an argument that will obscure the real conversation we should be having about race and authority in our country.
Trump later added that his attack on a league where the majority of athletes are African-American had “nothing to do with race.” Really?
Make no mistake, the anthem protests are first and foremost about race. African-American athletes, as is their right, are using their time in the public eye to draw attention to the ongoing struggle for equality, especially for those caught in an often-unfair criminal justice system.
Now, though, an additional issue is at stake: the fundamental right to speak out.
Remember, the anthem doesn’t belong just to Trump, or his supporters or any one group. It belongs to everyone. Its very words claim freedom of thought.
Hundreds of players joined the protests this weekend to redeem that promise. Every American should defend their rights as well.
Yes, there were scattered boos Sunday from fan sitting at stadiums or ontheir couches. That reaction is unfortunate, but it too is protected by the First Amendment. Some players locked arms. Others saluted. Again, protected speech.
And the sales of Pittsburgh Steelers’ Alejandro Villanueva jersey skyrocketing after he was the lone member of his team to stand for the national anthem before Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears. The rest of the Steelers remained in the locker room. Villanueva is an ex-Army Ranger who served three tours in Afghanistan and is a bronze star recipient. All part of the mix.
For those upset that politics has invaded the arena, we can only point out that sports are not outside society, but are an essential part of it.
We fervently hope that Trump finds a way to unite the nation he leads, instead of deliberately dividing it.
The first step might be to unite around a simple principle: In America, Mr. President, we all get to say what we think.
This editorial first appeared in the Kansas City Star.