Anti-American? Who Gets To Say?


Do the NFL’s new rules tell us what an American is?

“The NFL is being anti-American.” That’s the email subject line on the David Leonhardt newsletter I received Thursday. David is a columnist for the New York Times and I subscribe to his daily newsletter, generally going along with his somewhat left-leaning views. And I concur with the premise of this one, too. He strongly disagrees with the new National Football League rule that penalizes and fines teams whose players decide to “take a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem. He feels the rules violate the player’s right of self-expression. I agree with him–it’s just that subject line (which he may not have written) that I have a hard time with. I immediately thought of an incident from about 10 years ago.

I was still a member of the Board of Education of Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, though no longer President. The Board, the District, and the School had all been running smoothly for many years, and the public comment portion of our meetings was typically short and non-controversial. We were able to spend our meeting time discussing educational issues and celebrating the successes of our students.

Until our agendas weren’t quite so smooth. A more conservative segment of the population became vocal, attending Board meetings and questioning the guiding philosophy and practices at the high school. Suddenly the biological sciences we had been instructing our students in became subject to dispute. Creationism started staring us in the face. And the patriotism of our Board members was also called into question. Were we failing in making America great?

The Board held firm on the most important issues, the curricular ones. But we did “cave” in one regard, one of the few times in my 16-year tenure in which I disagreed with a Board decision. We decided that all future Board meetings would begin with our facing the American flag, putting our hands on our hearts, and saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have no problem with the Pledge. I respect the American Flag and would never do anything to dishonor it. But I have an extreme distaste for being dictated to by a group of “patriots” as to what I have to do to display my own patriotism. I have always felt that being a law-abiding, voting citizen, who volunteered much of his time to serve his community, was proof enough of my love of country.

Not wanting to be disruptive, I didn’t take the “protest” approach. I stood at the beginning of each meeting and recited the Pledge with my colleagues. But I always felt like a phony. And each time, I knew I would never impose my idea of patriotism on anyone else.

So if some football players take a knee, that’s ok with me. And if the NFL wants to prohibit it, well, I think that is wrong. I just am careful as to who I call anti-American!
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