op-ed

NFL Kneelers: Why The Anthem Matters

NFL kneelers have started a firestorm regarding our National Anthem and article after article have discussed what the National Anthem means.  Although perhaps well intentioned, all of these discussions miss the main issue.

The issue is not what the National Anthem might mean to this or that individual but rather why the National Anthem, or in smaller settings the Pledge of Allegiance, is performed before public gatherings.  And that why is unity.

Before the city council meeting or before a town hall or even yes, before a sporting event the National Anthem is performed as a sign of unity.  Before we start debating this or that point, before we perhaps engage in heated debate, and yes before we go out on the field and try to beat the tar out of the other guy we pause for and acknowledge our collective unity.

The fighting can start after that but first comes a communal declaration that we are all one; unified as Americans.

This is why the NFL kneeling movement is so divisive.  The kneelers might think they are making a point about this or that injustice but viewed from the true meaning as to why the Anthem is played, they are directly challenging the unity of America.

They are making a declaration that they are not united with the rest as Americans; that we and they are not first and foremost Americans.

Whether this is their intent or not is irrelevant.  They seem to think that because a football game is about to start, we just happen to play the National Anthem.  The why seems to be lost on them.

For an individual the meaning of the National Anthem might vary greatly.  But regardless of how we might feel about the meaning, the why it is performed, generally by all in attendance, is very clear.

Standing and honoring the National Anthem isn’t about its meaning, it is about unity.  And not surprisingly, it is by its very nature disruptive when one actively protests during a brief period of collective unity.

Whatever these kneelers desire – and that seems to cover many disparate issues — attacking unity is never going to be a unifying event.  Just ain’t going to happen.

John Conlin is an expert in organizational design and change.  He is the founder and President of E.I.C. Enterprises, www.eicenterprises.org, a USA-based 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to spreading the truth here and around the world, primarily through K-12 education.


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