Here we go again. Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, has outraged fans and spurred the fulminations of self-appointed patriots by refusing to stand for the national anthem.
Fresh on the heels of Gabby Douglas, the gymnast who failed during the Rio Olympics to put her hand over her heart when the “Star-Spangled Banner” played, Mr. Kaepernick has generated an endless stream of angry, personal attacks on Twitter and elsewhere in which he is accused of displaying an ungrateful, hypocritical disrespect for the United States.
On Monday, for instance, Fox News host Sean Hannity called Mr. Kaepernick “a spoiled brat, out-of-touch, super-rich athlete” who “lives in the greatest nation on Earth.”
And you’ll be shocked to hear that on Tuesday, Donald Trump called the quarterback’s failure to stand a “terrible thing,” adding that, “You know, maybe he should find a country that works better for him.”
Oh, for goodness’ sake. Is it actually possible that 240 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence the message still hasn’t sunk in that in this country, unlike some others, citizens are free to express their opinions? Even when the opinions in question are unpopular or unpatriotic or even wrong? And that the rest of us are free to express our agreement or disagreement?
Unlike Ms. Douglas, who said her faux pas in Rio was inadvertent, Mr. Kaepernick has not apologized — because his refusal to stand for the anthem was no accident. It was a protest — an expression of his view that, as he put it, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” Mr. Kaepernick’s mother is white, and his father is African American.
He followed up by saying, “There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Maybe you agree with him. Maybe you believe that police disproportionately shoot young men of color without sufficient justification and that they are too rarely punished for it.
Or maybe you disagree and feel that police are asked to put themselves into tough, dangerous situations and deserve the benefit of the doubt.
But either way, he’s entitled to his protest. The simple fact is that Americans are not obligated to say the Pledge of Allegiance or to stand for the National Anthem or to be grateful that they’ve been allowed to become wealthy quarterbacks. Americans are entitled to agree with Hannity that this country is the greatest on Earth and therefore above reproach, or to disagree.
And wait a minute, Mr. Trump. Aren’t you the nominee whose entire candidacy is based on the notion that America is no longer great?
This editorial originally appeared in The Los Angeles Times.