To the Editor:
I strongly disagree with the recent decision of the National Football League regarding players’ responses to the national anthem. The owners of the clubs “own” the team, but not the individual consciences of the players. No citizen — athlete, shopkeeper, student, teacher, auto mechanic, no one — is required to stand for the national anthem. And it is frustrating to point out that the controversy isn’t even about the national anthem. The mild protest is a response to the tendencies of many police and other American citizens to be threatened by any hint of resistance from black Americans. This is a historical legacy.
This controversy invites, even demands, that people look beyond the surface of what seems apparent. A great deal of our history is invisible to us because we will not look at it. There is an interesting history to the words of the anthem, especially the part about “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The author, Francis Scott Key, was in 1835 the high-profile district attorney for the District of Columbia, home of the nation’s capital and a Southern city in a slaveholding area. To that place at the exact wrong time came Dr. Reuben Crandall, physician and botanist, and brother of the Connecticut abolitionist Prudence Crandall. Although there are many details to the story, suffice it to say Dr. Crandall had thoughtlessly wrapped many of his belongings in abolitionist papers lying about his place ready to be thrown out. He was discovered and arrested on charges of “seditious libel,” and Key demanded the death sentence. Unable to raise bail, Dr. Crandall sat in a damp cell for the next eight months. A jury, after deliberating for less than an hour, acquitted him, but his health had been ruined, and he died two years later.
Kneeling is not a threatening or vulgar act. Anyone who risks his or her dignity, job, even life, is not frivolous or self-aggrandizing. I look forward to seeing fans move into the aisles and kneel along with the players, or if need be, for them.