When we consider freedom, we usually first think of the many sacrifices of those who’ve fought and died in order to protect and preserve this most coveted of all our rights. Truth is we tend to minimize the actuality of “living free”. Often, the expression appears with quotation marks as I’ve done, signifying special attention or worse, something slightly altered from what it seems to be. In that way, living free has become a caricature of itself. It’s that satirical change that empowered the nation and induced the majority to gang up on Colin Kaepernick. At least, that’s how it was in the
Since then, where there was previously a wave of resentment-jersey burnings and vet’s dissing-there’s now a softening where more and more people, however slowly they’re coming out of the woodwork, are rising to the young stars aid. Tonight, Broncos starting linebacker Brandon Marshall took a knee during the National Anthem at the NFL season opener in support of his former college teammate. I say it’s about time because it was never about his action but moreover, about his intent.
Like it or not, the football player forced us to consider what it means to live free. It might not have been his intention; he wanted to shine a light on the continued killing of African-Americans by police, hoping to promote a broader discussion on race as a whole. The American public though, as is its usual want, had other ideas, mostly leaning towards taking the easy road away from the headache of political discourse and social change.
Nevertheless, it’s because of Kaepernick that others are beginning to realize that living free comes with a price. It’s the price of dissent and the cost of ill-will. Think of the land of the free and the home of the brave. That covers both sides of freedom; the yea and the nay. We live free because we’re not only courageous enough to speak up when we see something that’s wrong, we’re also strong enough as a nation to listen to those telling us where and what we lack, regardless if we agree or not. That’s the true test of living in America.
And then there’s that pesky Constitution. Free-willed political expression, such as not standing for the National Anthem or even flag burning, is deliberately permitted under the Constitution and cannot in any way be forfeited. It’s amazing that more people, especially those who condemn the loudest, aren’t up on this basic fundamental right.
Let’s be frank; such aggravation is a par that many of us experience daily. As an African-American, or a Jew, Muslim or gay person or any other ethnic or disenfranchised group, you may have to stomach the free-speech rights of those who, shall we say, don’t hold you in the highest of regard. How can we justify on the one hand allowing the internet to be full of such rhetoric and at the same time, not allow an athlete his right to freely express himself in peaceful, nonviolent and non-destructive protest? The answer is we can’t. But I don’t think that will stop many of us from trying again in the future.
So, the bigger answer is also no; I don’t think we’ve learned as much as we need to from Kaepernick. America has the distinction of being a nation that allows political protest in speech and actions, without threat of penalty or reprisal. The moment we seek to stifle an individual from expressing views counter to the majority is the moment we travel further down that easy road I spoke of earlier, straight to suppression. We came close for a bit but luckily, the nation’s GPS has us slowly turning back on track. How long we stay on course? Time will tell.
Original photo US Flag Burn by Jennifer Parr, on Flickr under CC BY 2.0