The I Did It My Way version of our National Anthem causes me pain. I dutifully stand, eyes closed, victimized. I want to sit, with my fingers in my ears, but haven’t the courage. My coward’s refuge has been my seniors’-night-out fictional alter-egos, whose booing set off a riot at a local hockey game as a student group lacerated the Scar Strangled Banger (Agony Anthem; October, 2011).
When I first heard of Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit out the National Anthem at an NFL football game, I cheered, fleetingly imagining an aesthetic ally. When I learned the real motivation — his protest at America’s treatment of African-Americans — I realized I was wrong.
But was he wrong?
He certainly raised a whirlwind! How could he dishonor the two great symbols of our country — our flag and our anthem? How could he so disrespect those who defend the freedoms these symbols represent? How could he threaten football’s hallowed place in the American psyche?
In an on-line vote that The Denver Post publishes daily with, at most, a few thousand responses, its question about Kaepernick’s action got over 62,000 responses, about 80% of them negative.
Condemnation, however, was not universal. Some pointed out that, by taking so public and controversial an action, he was, simply and courageously, exercising America’s most fundamental right — free speech — whose protection, especially of controversial speech, our flag and anthem symbolize.
In following weeks, other football players joined Kaepernick’s protest, kneeling rather than sitting, a new posture Kaepernick also adopted.
Kaepernick was not wrong to sit, and he and his fellow players were, subsequently, not wrong to kneel, just as the majority — players and fans alike — were not wrong to remain standing. All were exercising their rights and contributing to a lively debate that is the essence of free speech.
However, their choices, all of them, came with limitations. Sitting does differentiate the sitter from the standing majority, but its implication is passive opting out. Kneeling, too, differentiates the kneeler from the standee, but its symbolism of subservience is probably not the message these protesters would want to send. Standing is strong, but, like sitting, leaves little room for nuance.
There is a possible compromise: the crouch. The croucher is a standee with attitude, moving down into the middle ground, symbolizing neither apathy nor fanaticism, but rather a give-and-take attitude that is the catalyst of democracy. The croucher can dip to whatever level is appropriate to the occasion — bending the knees slightly to signal agreement but with reservation, or hunkering all the way down in a posture of strong, but not absolute, dissent.
Exceptions, like recent knee- or hip-replacements, would be accommodated. Partisans at either extreme would still have the right either to stand tall or sit tight. But the rest should be pleased at the chance for a more accurate, calibrated expression of the moderate views most of us hold. Stronger thighs and better balance are an added bonus.
I can report favorably from personal experience. Recently, I gave a crouching ovation to a performance of The Glass Menagerie, voicing my reservations at its fevered overwriting and the lead’s mannered acting, but still applauding the other actors, who triumphed over the play’s weaknesses.
I was relieved not to have to sit defiantly as all about me rose to their feet, but, standing at half-mast, to be able to express my divided emotions and, by the way, getting the kinks out of legs stiff from sitting through a very long play.
I have recommended my solution to Mr. Kaepernick as a way to remain standing while expressing his views with a deep knee-bend that, by the way, should help keep him warmed up for what really counts.
I’m expecting a response any day now.