If The Flag Could Talk

by Bert Bartlett

Well, NFL players have wrought quite the attention to the First Amendment.

The Pittsburgh Steelers became the first team in pro football history to not come out of a locker room for the national anthem as scheduled.

Ironic, particularly for (just) a game that participants and owners are gifted or blessed enough to have the opportunity to make a living at, or sit back and accumulate a modern fortune. And handsome ones at that, needless to say, top one per cent incomes annually, nice pensions, Forbes 500 lists…

No private enterprise reaps the cross of sports as (free) news in the media, and the milking of the municipal and state dole as succulently as the National Football League. Not to mention the golden beneficiary of some long embedded generous anti-trust favors from the Feds, taken for granted today.

Owners and the Commissioner were unexpectedly put on a hot seat of musical chairs. The sight of King Cowboy Capitalist Jerry Jones grinning and bearing it while kneeling arm in arm with his players before an anthem, as a “settlement” gesture of unity, however well intended, was downright comical in its double entendre of self interest and implication. A friend humored me on a text, as if Jerry Jones is a victim of oppression.

*  *  *  *

I was born out of protests, they are in effect – my parties. Back in 1793, you should have seen how brackish the color of Boston Harbor was with 342 chests of tea in it! The entire Colony of New England should have brought lemons and straws!

Those exercising their right to protest can forget the word peaceful is also in the First Amendment. Protestors like “antifa” with heads wrapped in scarves in Berkeley, or hooligans with swastikas in Charlottesville can fashion themselves like that, but the second property damage, assault, or violence breaks out, the party is definitively over, and I welcome the sights and sirens of fire trucks pulling up with the water hoses. Spray baby, spray. And do not discriminate.

It’s good the Supreme Court made burning a copy of me not illegal, finally in 1990. Though it’s a momentary pain in the ass, little heed should be paid to those who lack the intellect, rationale, or control to more productively advance their causes. Especially in the courts; as you know, those dockets are full enough. If I was judgmental, I’d call those people losers.

I’m hardly naïve enough to believe that all who have stood and crossed their heart in homage to me and my sister anthem have felt a hundred per cent about whatever the state of affairs in America. It’s always been a brief moment of grace and repose though, to simply remind us – to keep our stitches together. Yep, some little traditions still matter, as hoary as that may sound…

The player protests of sitting and kneeling aren’t that offensive to my fabric. It’s not like Randy Moss of the Vikings turned around, dropped his pants, and shot the moon in my direction like he once did to fans in the end zone after a touchdown in Green Bay.

What stood out in the player protests was how passé discretion over valor has become in the United States, and how explosive the growth of tribalism has become in it. Skin color is only one seat in the gallery, along stereotypical and hostile political partisanship, religion, gender, income disparity, wealth divergence, urban vs. rural, and immigration among the sundry guests.

As for politics, to stay at the right elevation, I just flutter along, remembering it’s the world’s second oldest profession.

*  *  *  *

Predictably, the national reactions were volatile, ran amok, and had a head full of crosshairs. The only tangible issue was whether protests should be allowed on their employers’ (and sponsors’) dime, and during the paying fan’s entertainment time. Legally, they were said to have the right to do so on the former, as long as it does not result in loss of income for the employer.

Declining television ratings percentages in the teens are easy to prove and signal a judge would rule in the owners’ favor (and for goodness sakes, let this not meander into that).

I wonder if the pre-games have rated higher in a ghoulish manner, i.e., fans tuning in to see which and who of their favorites are standing or kneeling before they change the channel, still offended enough to avoid the games anyway.  That’s a number the networks are unlikely to release. This is all new ground for the NFL on TV.

So what do the protests say about NFL players? Are they legit victims, sacred cows for social justice, yearning to be heroes in tomorrow’s history books, exploiting a provided stage to promote their collective “brand”, social network celeb wannabes begging for attention, or just in poor taste, and young ignoramuses? Odds are they are a bit of all those.

Or maybe they are fooling all of us, and it’s a brilliant play action fake to eventually lead to negotiations with the owners that will fully instead of partially guarantee their contracts.

Is there an end game? I’m not waiting by the phone for if and when NFL players adjudge oppression and police brutality are no longer a problem in this country.

And yes, the slope can get slippery. What could be an encore, the wearing of blue or red headbands in advance of the mid-term elections next year?

*  *  *  *

A wise man once said someone else’s transgressions never forgive ours, but to become more informed about the extent and degree of oppression and profiling extant in the world, perhaps players should sample an off season vacation to Syria, Venezuela, or the Philippines.

When they get home, they just might feel less compelled to protest at work before hundreds of thousands of fans and millions of viewers anticipating a football game.

Or they could pick up a copy of the Old Testament.

My two cents is all of America should more often remember the founding fathers defined this an imperfect union from the get go. The strive to make it less imperfect is where the redeeming righteousness comes from. I don’t fly, or celebrate the failure to be perfect…

For satiric relief, someone should doctor the grainy black and white video of JFK’s wintry inauguration speech from 1960 on Youtube.

“Ask, no, demand, not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you. We have, it is our native and alien right, to take, take, and take some more, all of what it abundantly has to offer. There is no time, really, to listen to anyone else, and you are under no compunction to do so, particularly if you disagree. As for everybody else, in the natural order of things, let somebody else worry about everybody else. So go forth and take, my fellow friends. This is America, Jack…”  

But this probably isn’t a good idea, given the alacrity with which re-evaluation of historical figures has gotten in applying today’s mores to yesteryear. In this touchy but not feely environment, many who see the video may not understand it’s fake history.

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In a cruel, pungent, and timely twist of micro fate, Richard Bennett of the Seahawks, who is black and active in “the movement” (as they refer to it), was pinned face down on the pavement by an officer with a gun to his head, one of many immediately suspected after a shooting broke outside a club in Las Vegas.

Though not arrested and released, allegedly only after his identity confirmed as an NFL player, he was in process of having an attorney sue the police department. When interviewed, Bennett didn’t appear bitter though, just understandably shook up, and  grateful he was going to see his kids again.

Curiously, especially the non-discussion of it in subsequent pundit heats, protests aren’t an issue in the National Basketball Association. What does that intimate?  That NBA players have the common sense to not strangle the geese that lay their golden eggs, and that there are other less presumptuous ways to protest, which they have utilized.

They apparently concur with receiver Dez Bryant in Dallas, who quipped “this ain’t the time or place, bro’…”

Clearly, immediately, the league’s standard conduct code, which is as much about the uniformity of telecasts as jamming patriotism (down to which hand to hold the helmet in),  should change from mandatory player participation for the anthem, to optional. Freedom of choice prevails, those that choose to participate do, and those that prefer not to can sit on the benches in the locker room, making their point.  The rank negativity emanating from the anthem ritual dissipates.

Yet Commissioner Goodell and the owners are inevitably terrified about broadcast partners, revenue producing sponsors, and fans having their feelings hurt on that non-mandatory stance alone. It’s a conundrum, but something is better than the nothing of the status quo.

I’m somewhat surprised the player protests have not seeped over to Division I college ball. The kids are inevitably tempted with similar mass exposure. Given the magnanimous use of public funds in university athletic scholarships and the vitality of free speech on campuses as part of the higher educational process, technically, they have more right to take a knee than the pros do. Their de facto status as employees would only culminate from an adjudication of some kind, which the NCAA wants to avoid like the plague.

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When President Erdogan of Turkey, an autocrat masquerading a democracy, visited Washington this year, did you notice his goons in suits and shades methodically beating down domestic dissident peaceful protesters of his regime while he was inside? It was more brutal than the defense of the ’85 Bears.

If it got that bad in D.C., imagine how bad the treatment gets in native Turkey. We are unlikely to see it on Instagram. I lose no sleep over the state of our right to peacefully protest,   no matter who gets elected to what. Speaking of which…

On the stump down in Alabama, though unnecessarily crude about it, I didn’t mind President Trump looking out for me, using his own free speech to condemn any “disrespect”. Contrary to what his considerable body of haters would have you believe, I didn’t take it as race baiting. If lighter skinned Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League did the same about something or other, I doubt the old man would feel any different about it. But I’m not black, I’m red white and blue, and to each their own…

And since when is it news that the flag was “used” by a President for political purposes? Huh? It’s part of my being for about as long as I can remember. I’ve been omnipresent on all the suit lapels.

I don’t play favorites, mere mortals do, but my relationship with the military is inherently unique. In foreign lands, in the muck and mire of a Viet Nam, or in a Normandy trudging a beach not knowing where the next bullets are coming from, a coin toss if alive to see the sun up the next day, all has a way of procreating that. Those are just a pair of recent thumbnails.

It’s been about 15 years since I’ve been in Afghanistan, and I’ll never get used to the evil cacophony of a single round of sniper fire, or when draped over a casket for the longest of flights home.  Or the crestfallen sights of the soldier’s survivors in the states, being lowered into the ground. So when any veteran chooses to disapprove of football players protesting, I’ve certainly got no issues with it.

*  *  *  *

Being the flag is not all controversy, or gloom and doom.

It seems like just yesterday, not ’69, when along for the ride on the Apollo missions, a pole was lowered with me on it into the surface of moon, while television broadcast transmissions cackled “A small step for mankind…”

When the astronauts waddled off, I yelled at them in vain, “Hey, are you really gonna’ leave me up here?”

It’s cold and a bit lonely up here, but no complaints. Still no news for extra – terrestrial scientists and proponents. But I remain on the lookout, and open minded.

I do not enjoy lunar eclipses with the sun, the wrong side of them I mean, the heat being a jillion times worse than summer training camp for NFL players. I wish NASA would shuttle me some ‘scrip glasses in advance of the next one, so I can finally look at the universe’s largest star.  That we know of.

I get comped to all the big concerts in play.

And the summer and winter vacations to the Olympics are fun. I am off to South Korea in February.

*  *  *  *

Many have only recently learned about my National Flag Code of etiquette, established in 1923 by the American Legion, becoming federal law in 1942.

Like most laws on the books it has disclaimers out the wazoo and sometimes I can’t even make sense of them.

I am not allowed to touch the ground on a horizontal display, which is why I am always a few feet above the field in a Super Bowl.

I agree the 100 yard size of those versions can be a bit much, and size does not dictate my effectiveness. I can be just as meaningful and poignant as a thumb sized decal on the back of a helmet, like after 9/11.

Technically I am only allowed to be disposed of after outliving usefulness in a dignified manner. And methodical burning was once one considered that, in less domestically contentious days.

When my image on paper napkins and plastic cups is discarded after barbeques  every July The Fourth, I am tossed in the trash. And have been known to be used in all kinds of commercialism limited only by the imagination, that the government does not request residuals for. But I choose to not protest that.

I just like to fly – freely, fly, and fly some more. It’s my blessing.

*  *  *  *

Lastly, I notice New Orleans is having a fine season – so far.  More on that next time.

Go Saints !




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