I love “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I think we have the greatest national anthem of any country, and here’s why.
First off, it’s a very democratic song (note small “d”). It’s almost impossible for one voice to sing the tune properly; we need a bunch of people to properly hit all the right notes and key changes.
It’s also a song that celebrates two bedrock aspects of American life: the co-joined importance of liberty and sacrifice. “The home of the brave and the land of the free” are concepts that are immutably tied together. The rights we enjoy were bought and paid for over the years by hundreds of thousands of American men and women who gave “the last full measure of devotion,” as Lincoln put it.
Which brings us to the Colin Kaepernick kerfuffle. As you probably know, the San Francisco 49er quarterback has raised a storm of protest for his protest of not standing during the playing of the National Anthem.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said in an interview.
Here, as people have pointed out, is a fabulously unoppressed man. He was acclaimed as a hero when he led the Niners to a Super Bowl in 2013, and into the NFC title game at the end of the next season.
Convinced they’d found the Next Big Thing, the team signed him to a six-year contract extension worth up to $126 million, all for throwing and running with a pigskin. Things have gone downhill from there, but …
To me, there are two issues here. The least important, to me, is whether CK has a right to sit down, stand up, perform magic tricks or do Elvis impressions during the playing of “The Star Spangled Banner.” It’s offensive and childish and disrespectful, but all of that is protected by the Constitution of the United States, which every soldier, teacher, police officer, etc. are sworn to uphold,
The second issue is just what encompasses acting the fool. The American flag and the song, which celebrates it, are often used by people and institutions, which do not appear to have a true patriotic bone in their bodies.
Auto dealerships festoon their used car lots with dozens of star-spangled banners to use them as advertising devices. You can buy – I saw them at Target – swim trunks in the pattern of an American flag, which means you can literally sit your asterisk on Old Glory.
I’d venture to say that most people don’t know all the lyrics of the song, or any of the history behind it. And the other three verses are so obscure that hardly even knows they exist.
Politicians drape themselves in the Stars and Stripes. To not wear a flag pin in your lapel is controversial. A flag is a symbol, to be sure, but many folks have no idea what it symbolizes.
“The Star Spangled Banner,” to me is a thrilling recognition of how a small country with a crazy idea – government of the people – became not just the world’s greatest nation, but also the inspiration for every forward-thinking movement in history.
The end of colonialism, the abolition of slavery, the defeat of fascism, the destruction of the tyrannical Soviet Union, the rise of environmentalism, civil rights movements for blacks, women, gays, the handicapped, etc. all started under that flag.
Our past and path are never perfect, and – as always – there’s still plenty of work to do. Colin Kaepernick may not know any more about love of country than I do about beating the Cover 2 pass defense, but that’s OK. Ignorance, like wisdom, is protected under the Star-Spangled Banner he cannot find happiness beneath.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on Wednesdays.