Sunday, November 5, 2017

If the Flag Doesn't Symbolize Unity, What Will?

This is a Special Edition of Blank versus Blank. This post is the presentation of a single side of an issue. Because it is only one perspective, we call this a Blank Verse.

This Blank Verse is presented by David.

 We are a very diverse nation. And we have very diverse opinions. But overall, we have much more in common than we don't.

The NFL protests this season have opened up considerable dialogue, although not exactly what the NFL would have preferred, or the players anticipated. Several players have offered up their view that the protests about an inequality within the justice system, is a unifying event.

It isn't. The why of their protest was overshadowed by the when of their protest.

It used to be that many Americans spent their Sunday afternoons watching the NFL. It was a unifying event. But now, for many, the introduction of politics into the sport destroyed that unity. According to ratings, many Americans are now spending their Sunday afternoons doing other things.

After the President got involved, likely for political gain, the players doubled down on their calls for unity. But it was a call for unity within their teams, not unity as a country. It should have been obvious to them that they were on the wrong side of this argument when Pittsburgh Steeler Alejandro Villanueva's jersey became the best-selling jersey in America after he stood for the anthem alone, as his team "unified" within the locker room.

Alejandro Villanueva standing alone for the National Anthem

Drew Brees, Saints quarterback, said, "Do I think that there's inequality in this country? Yes I do. Do I think that there's racism? Yes I do. I think that there's inequality for women, for women in the workplace. I think that there's inequality for people of color, for minorities, for immigrants. But as it pertains to the national anthem, I will always feel that if you are an American that the national anthem is the opportunity for us all to stand up together, to be unified and to show respect for our country." (Brees stood for the anthem.)

It is regrettable that icons of national unity like “The Star Spangled Banner” and the American flag are being used for division, no matter how worthy the cause.

The players who didn’t stand for the anthem have cited numerous reasons for their protests, such as police brutality, racism, and even opposition to President Trump and his policies, but the general, overriding message they are sending is this: We are not a united country anymore.

On June 14, 1777, the Continental Congress resolved "That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."

The United States Flag predates the adoption of the U.S. Constitution by 12 years. It's been a part of America longer than the basis of our legal system that the NFL players are protesting against.

In South Boston, Virginia, at the Annin Flagmakers factory , workers were asked by their local newspaper to name life's most important elements. No matter the political or ethnic backgrounds, the same answers come back: family, work and faith. When asked to sum up the values Americans broadly share, they point to their handiwork and what it stands for — freedom, opportunity and prideWhen presented with the idea of living in any other foreign land, they uniformly say "no, America can't be beat".

"We may be divided on some things, but when it comes down to the most important things we come together," said Emily Bouldin, a 66-year-old seated before a jabbering sewing machine on an Annin production floor awash in red, white and blue. "Because we realize, together we stand, divided we fall."

"The United States is the freest and the best country on this earth and that flag represents that," said Ed Haney, a 69-year-old maintenance mechanic at the Annin plant.

The NFL protests, because they are so open to interpretation, are ineffective. Whatever message these players are trying to send is obscured by the reckless way they’re doing it. There are plenty of other venues for protests. This is not the forum for such protest. By this time, most (but not all) of them clearly realize their tactical error. They have begun kneeling at some point during the pre-game, but they are standing for the anthem.

However, one thing is for sure, recreating national unity can’t come from top-down economic solutions or policies. It can only come from a healthy, revitalized culture and leaders who know how to channel it in the right direction. A stand for unity in America is healthy, in the right forum, and with a unified goal of making America the best that it can be.

America was never a perfect nation, but we have made incredible progress. The flag represents our aspirations and goals. It represents the best of America, not the worst.

Watch this short video of a men who had a dream of raising a 400-foot flag pole in Wisconsin, and see the excitement the project brought about in everyone involved, from designers, to engineers, to the construction crew. The flag is unifying. A really big flag is really unifying.

The Making of the Acuity Flagpole.

The American  flag itself is the most easily accessible image for unity. Is it lawful to burn it? Yes. Is it lawful to take a knee during the National Anthem? Yes. But is it unifying to do so? Absolutely not.

It may be permissible to do something, but it is not necessarily beneficial to your cause. In the instance of the NFL, protesting during the displaying of the flag and the playing of the National Anthem has aligned many Americans against the players and their cause. The message has been lost because of the manner of protest.

A great many Americans treasure the flag for very personal reasons. Members of the military specifically believe they have fought, and many of their peers have bled and died for this country and it's ideals. The American flag represents that sacrifice and the deaths of any soldier who has ever worn the uniform of our country.

These same veterans admit that one of the ideals they fought for was free speech, and for Americans to be able to protest. They understand better than most of the protestors why these rights make America a great country. But they don't have to like it, or condone the disrespect to the flag and all of the great things it represents.

What the NFL players seem to have finally realized, is that taking a knee during the anthem was the wrong manner and time to make their point. Did it start a discussion? Oh boy, did it. But Colin Kaepernick's original message has been overshadowed by the fallout over the choice of protest. Within a few short months, the NFL has fallen from it's perennial spot as America's most popular sport. Major League Baseball has taken over that spot just this year. There are other factors that play into this shift, such as the resurgence of the never-win Chicago Cubs finally winning the World Series last year. But while the NFL toppled, and it's negative ratings climbed, college football remained stable in it's fan base and viewership. So it's only professional football that is currently falling. Most polls list the NFL protests as a major factor in fan opinions. And the opinions have largely been negative.

The American flag can unify us, in a time where unity is needed.  Go out and buy one and hang it on your house today.  If the flag as a symbol can't unify us, is there anything that can?

We are all Americans, even when we disagree about the solutions to our problems. Whether it's Obama or Trump who wears the mantle of President, they both stand in front of an American flag, and represent our country to the world. I disagreed with Obama, and you may disagree with Trump. That's America, my friend. Let's rejoice in our Americanism.

There are calls for national unity everyday, yet those calls are usually followed by the usual, divisive identity-politics-messaging. Real unity will come from people like you and me, who choose to find unity with those around us each and everyday. It also means we have to find unity with those who disagree with us, each and every day.

Let's be Americans. Together.

Have a thoughtful Veteran's Day this November 11th. The NFL is planning for some extraordinarily big celebrations next Sunday. Perhaps they can repair some of the damage the've done. Waving some flags and sincerely applauding veterans will certainly be a unifying step in the right direction.


  1. Very well done! I feel you two are a good example of how we more forward with the much needed healing in America.

  2. Independence — Occupations that satisfy this work value
    allow employees to work on their own and make decisions.

    1. Not sure what that comment has to do with the blog. Independence is also moving out of Mom’s basement, living on your own, paying your own bills, and taking responsibility for your decisions.


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