To some veterans, the sight of professional athletes kneeling in protest during the national anthem is disrespectful to American service members, veterans, the fallen, and the flag. To others, it is a right enshrined in the constitution that displays the very freedoms we fought to preserve.
A wide range of opinions have been offered among veterans ranging from defending the protests as free expression, to viewing them as a slight to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Taking a knee is now the subject of what it means to be patriotic in a country where political dissent is not only protected, but celebrated.
But that is really not what this is about. The country is caught up assessing the methods, while the underlying cause of the protests—the disproportionate use of deadly police force against brown and black bodies—has fallen by the wayside. And veterans are caught in the middle.
Over the past few days I have responded to texts, phone calls, and Facebook messages from friends asking me what I think about the kneeling, but I, for one, really don’t see how this is a veteran issue. And even if it were, who made me the arbiter of the broad, diverse veteran community? No such representative exists, and anyone who tells you otherwise is attempting to speak for the rest of us.
We aren’t a monolith. Charging that kneeling during the national anthem is disrespectful to veterans and America’s military is an attempt to paint veterans with one broad brush while signaling one’s virtue. What they really should be saying is that they feel it is disrespectful or offensive to their brothers and sisters in arms—a completely valid opinion, but it is an opinion after all.
At best, reframing the debate as respect for veterans is a misunderstanding of the genesis of the protest, and at worst, it is the successful hijacking of a narrative.
The fact that this discussion has become so skewed, to me, raises questions as to the effectiveness of the protest. However, no matter the efficacy, or reactions for that matter, kneeling during the anthem is protected expression. But that is just one vet’s opinion.