To kneel or not to kneel, isn’t the question. Show respect for the flag and anthem.

American flags seen at the Washington Monument. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

NEW YORK – NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s statement that he expects players to stand for the American anthem when preseason and regular-season games begin, is commendable.

That bold statement needs to be reiterated across all sporting disciplines. If players don’t respect that simple rule, they need to be disciplined; fired, if they violate it often.

It’s deplorable that the form of protest initiated by Colin Kaepernick has spread like wildfire, vitiated the sporting arena in the United States. It’s made a mockery of fans who pay to watch sports, dented a valuable family outing. Fans feel violated, humiliated when players show disrespect for the American anthem and the flag.

Why should fans with a deep sense of pride in their national anthem and flag, revere it, respect a player who appallingly tramples on the same sentiments, tarnishes a time-bound tradition ingrained into the very soul of sports?

The sports field is where children at an early age learn the value of teamwork, discipline and teamwork. Learn to win, take loss in stride, become stronger mentally and physically in life. A strong sense of patriotism and pride is instilled in children when they sing the national anthem in tandem, stand up for the flag. It’s a ritual followed in countries around the world, by civilized people.

Why should adult fans taken their innocent, naïve children to games where players show disrespect to the anthem and the flag? What if children emulate the same in their school yard, to show solidarity for a trivial issue, without understanding the consequences of their action?

It’s ridiculous! Shame to all players who have shown disrespect for the national anthem and the national flag!

At the Olympics as well as World Cups, it’s a time-bound tradition for the national anthem to be played at medal ceremony. Imagine a player who has won gold, and the national anthem is being played to honor that win, as the national flag goes up, to kneel at that moment.

Does that idiot think that viewers from around the world will clap for him or her, immediately decide that yes, the athlete is right, try to resolve the issue of racial injustice? Or would viewers jeer, condemn the incident, feel ashamed of that athlete? I vote for the latter.

If players want to highlight injustice and police brutality against Blacks, then they should do it the right way, like all other forms of protest: hold rallies, converge on Capitol Hill or their town hall, give talks in schools and universities, do a Million Players March, even refuse to play. Do what it takes to take that issue of racial injustice forward. But for goodness sake, leave the sports arena alone with this absurd tactic of kneeling down for the flag, when the national anthem is being played!

This is what Silver said in his statement: “It’s always been an opportunity in our arenas for both teams to come together and have a moment of reflection. Clearly for the non-American players, it’s not necessarily a moment of patriotism for the United States, but it’s about respect. It’s about respect for the country they play in. It’s about respect for the principles that underlie this country. It doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone agrees at any given point with what’s happening in their country.”

President Trump may have been profane and coarse when he said “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired. He’s fired!” But one can totally agree with what he had to say about the kneelers: “That’s a total disrespect of our heritage. That’s a total disrespect for everything we stand for.”

The effect of Kaepernick’s puerile act – which cost him his career – has already invaded the children’s sporting arena and psyche: a group of 8-year-old football players, from a team called Junior Comanches, in Cahokia, Illinois, knelt during the national anthem while turning their backs on the flag, earlier this month, to protest the verdict in the St. Louis trial of former police officer Jason Stockley.

The question is: are 8-year-old children capable of making their own judgment on issues like police brutality, injustice against Black people, and hatred against minorities? And did they all talk about it and then decide to kneel, or were they told to do so by conniving adults to prove a point, gain national publicity?

At an age when an 8-year-old should be learning to respect, laugh and play with classmates, not look at the color of the skin before deciding whom to be friends with, the act of showing callous disrespect on the field will translate quickly to lack of trust and disrespect off the field for myriad issues.

What next will these children do: spit in a white police officer’s face?

It won’t be just the flag and the anthem after such an inglorious stance; it would mean impertinence, scant respect and disobedience to a whole lot of other issues, sow fear and hatred early for all white skin people.

The vicious cycle of racial intolerance just started very early for those 8-year-old Junior Comanches players. It will dictate a lot of their decisions in life going forward; color judgment, even before they understand an issue in its entirety. It’s a pity. They are not minnow players anymore. They are ‘warriors’ too now, for a cause they have little understanding of. Perhaps, they will be ostracized for their act of defiance done at direction of adults, for no fault of theirs.

Fans are doing the right thing by showing disgust and contempt for NFL players who kneel: use those jerseys as doormats and bonfire fodder. Throw it in the fireplace.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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