What do we mean when we say someone is a patriot?
No, not Tom Brady. An actual patriot, someone who fights for their country. Someone who speaks on the basis of their morals in the face of opposition.
Patriotism is not measured by how much surface area you can cover with the American flag or how much beer you can drink on the Fourth of July. Nor is it measured in blind loyalty to our institutions.
It seems like true patriotism has been looked down upon in recent years.
In August 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick captured the nation’s attention, protesting the United States’ treatment of black Americans by sitting through the national anthem. Teams and players of all sports protested across the country in solidarity with Kaepernick.
On Saturday, President Trump began a seemingly random tirade against players protesting the flag in response to NBA champion Steph Curry declining a White House invitation. Referencing any player who kneels, Trump said he’d love to see NFL owners “get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He’s fired.”
Many complained politics should be kept out of sports. But the athletic community protesting what the flag stands for is part of a bigger issue.
When people decide they value an untarnished flag over the self-expression of one man, they publicize a problem.
When people begin screaming about coaches and owners supporting their players’ freedom of speech, they privatize an issue.
When the president picks a childish nationwide fight with the NFL, he politicizes an issue.
Kaepernick’s action and the solidarity expressed throughout the athletic community aren’t because of displeasure over reactions to the protest — they’re protesting the struggle they’ve endured to get to play on the field.
Complaining that an NFL player should be happy with an average $1.9 million per year, the lowest of the four major U.S. sports, disregards the oppression athletes face as regular citizens on their way to the professional level.
When a black athlete of any sport changes out of their uniform into a tank-top and sweats, they trade away their privileged status in the face of the law. Atlanta Hawks guard Thabo Sefolosha had his leg broken by NYPD officers after turning away from the police to give a homeless man $20, taking him out for the 2015-2016 season.
In many ways, athletes are the most prominent celebrities in the country. With money comes recognition. With recognition comes a voice representing those who did not make it.
But in moments of perceived crisis, even someone doing nothing wrong becomes a criminal worth nothing.
A decade ago, players wouldn’t have received much publicity for protesting during the anthem. Athletes weren’t mandated to be on the field for the national anthem until 2009. The Department of Defense paid $6.8 million for “paid patriotism,” such as displays of national pride and increased advertising, between 2012 and 2015.
Our nation has been moving toward a brand new form of patriotism: blind nationalism. We need to return patriotism to when fighting for what you believe is valued.
You don’t have the freedom to say “get that son of a bitch off the field” without the freedom to take a knee for what you believe. Equality is not a selective process.
Kaepernick’s teammate, Eric Reid, says it best.
“I love my country. Exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
A true patriot doesn’t always accept.
They always question.