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Sept. 4, 2016 — The ally

Yesterday, before a women’s soccer game between the Chicago Red Stars and the Seattle Reign, midfielder Megan Rapinoe took a knee on the sideline as the national anthem played.

After the game, she said that it was in solidarity with NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has gotten attention — positive and negative — for protesting against racism and police brutality.

In a quote from after the game, Rapinoe gave her perspective on the U.S. flag and the national anthem.

“Quite honestly, being gay, I have stood with my hand over my heart during the national anthem and felt like I haven’t had my liberties protected,” Rapinoe said, “so I can absolutely sympathize with that feeling.”

While the alt-right movement has had its usual echo chamber of noise around this issue, perspective is a good thing.

When you think about it, the powers of government were established back in 1787. The U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights are, and should be, more important than anything legislated thereafter.

But the trappings and rules surrounding the U.S. flag and the Star-Spangled Banner are fewer than 100 years old. Take our national anthem; had you asked the average American what our national song was last century, you might have gotten a jumble of song titles, from “Columbia, The Gem of the Ocean” to “America The Beautiful.” But Francis Scott Key’s poem, paired with a popular drinking song called “To Anacreon in Heaven,” did not become the national anthem until 1931.

And it wasn’t until just after the start of World War II when the current etiquette for the display and treatment of the U.S. flag was written into public law, 20 years after the American Legion (and not lawmakers) drafted the rules.

Deviations from the normative, when it comes to standing at attention for the playing of the national anthem, have been met with condemnation and outright scorn at times. John Carlos and Tommie Smith, for example, were expelled from the 1968 Olympics after donning black gloves for the medal ceremony for the 200-meter dash in Mexico City.

Yet, it’s heartening that a 5-foot-6 soccer midfielder is coming to the defense of a 6-foot-4 football quarterback in a time when race is still very much an issue in the United States.

It’s an interesting alliance, one which, I think, is going to amplify the conversation about how and why people are treated with such radical inequality in what is supposed to be the “land of the free.”

 

 

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