I’ve recently read The Assault on Intelligence by former NSA and CIA Director Michael Hayden. There are a sufficient number of foreign policy and security insights in his account to warrant making some further Noise about his book in the future. However, the NFL’s announcement this week of its new policy requiring all players on the field to stand during the national anthem made me recall one particular passage of Mr. Hayden’s book (he was raised in Pittsburgh, and appears to be as much the Steeler fan as some of us are Packer fans), in which he reminds that the controversy began with a speech President Trump delivered in late September, 2017, during which the President said the following:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’ …. When people like yourselves turn on television and you see those people taking the knee when they are playing our great national anthem. The only thing you could do better is if you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop. Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. [Emphasis mine, not Mr. Hayden’s].”
My comment to follow, but what prompted this post is something Mr. Hayden added:
“The week before [the President’s speech], six NFL players protested social injustice and police brutality by sitting or taking a knee during the pregame anthem. Six. This was not a national issue. [Emphasis Mr. Hayden’s].”
I have not independently verified Mr. Hayden’s claim that only six NFL players sat or knelt during the pregame anthems the week before the President’s speech. If his account is accurate, it would seem that the President – a masterful showman with a unique genius for manipulating the media and his supporters – here, as in many other instances, adroitly spun what became and remains a mountain out of a molehill to inflame his supporters for his own political purposes.
This is an area that I enter cautiously, since at least two people for whom I have the highest regard have indicated to me that they are troubled by the NFL players that haven’t stood during the national anthem. I would offer this:
- Reading the President’s words as Mr. Hayden quoted them was chilling for me in the first instance for reasons having nothing to do with the substantive issue. His references to “people like yourselves” and “those people” did, at the very least, again set up the “us against them” tribalism mentality that divides us rather than unites us, and at worst, exacerbated racial tensions (since virtually all, if not all, of the players not standing were black men).
- My Catholic upbringing has from the outset left me a bit puzzled about one aspect of this controversy; I relate “taking a knee” to genuflection – certainly not a lesser level of respect for that being esteemed than standing.
- Again, perhaps influenced by a lifetime of genuflecting: I suggest that one could consider the players’ actions as respectful, nonviolent demonstrations — akin to the sit-ins and the freedom rides of the 1960s — through which they called attention to injustices they perceive to exist in our nation. Calling out a perceived injustice in this country is not disrespecting the country.
- No one of any political stripe should disagree with the proposition that in this country, one is free to express his/her views on controversial issues in a nonviolent manner.
- I have a different perspective on Mr. Hayden’s point about this not being a national issue. While we must carefully address the merits of the issues the players have raised, it escapes me why we as a nation should have our hair on fire because some number of men choose to lawfully express their views about perceived social injustice. In this country, people demonstrate about some issue or other every day. Only the NFL’s glitz makes it noteworthy. Many thousands marched for enhanced gun regulation a few weeks back; judging by the lack of Congressional action in this realm, our nation has (regrettably, in my view) pretty readily taken that much larger demonstration in stride.
Agree or disagree with me on the substance of the players’ demonstration (and as noted above, a couple of people whose opinion I hold in the highest regard do indeed disagree with me); but no matter where one stands on the substance, it appears fair to pose that the lion’s share of the emotion generated around this issue has been entirely … Trumped up.
As I was about to hit the “Publish” button on this, it occurred to me that it’s appropriate to suggest that amidst holiday gatherings and home projects, we take a minute this weekend to remember the sacrifices made by Americans to enable us to freely express our views on controversial issues in a nonviolent manner. This last paragraph is a rare one that I am 100% confident is not haywire …