I wonder how many times I’ve said the Pledge of Allegiance in my life.
I’m betting it’s a lot more than I’ve sang the National Anthem.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot for the past few weeks because I’m wrestling with a dilemma: I’m trying to decide if I want to participate in a Fantasy Football game at our office.
I’ve never been much of a football fan but I started playing Fantasy Football 3 years ago with the sole intent of just getting to know my co-workers a little better. It’s been fun, and I even won enough in the pool one year to buy two tickets to a game: my first and only NFL game.
But I’m conflicted.
I don’t like the NFL’s new policy demanding that all players stand for the National Anthem or remain in the locker room.
I don’t like the way this whole conversation has unfolded over the last few years. I don’t appreciate the name-calling, especially by the President, who should be above such things.
I don’t appreciate the desire by so many to sweep the whole thing under the rug. I don’t appreciate people having their patriotism questioned because they’re raising their voices to right a wrong.
Sure, I could be offended by the kneeling. I’m a veteran. I’ve participated in more flag ceremonies than I can even begin to count. I’ve taught my sons to stand for the National Anthem and we’ve done it countless times at baseball games and we do it proudly.
But we also say the Pledge of Allegiance and probably do so far more frequently than we stand for the National Anthem.
There’s a big difference between the two: the National Anthem doesn’t ask anything of us. The lyrics and tune are inspiring, but they don’t call us to do anything but marvel at the idea that the flag was still flying after a long night of bombardment. Noteworthy and motivating, for sure, but there’s no call to action.
The Pledge of Allegiance, however, asks us to have skin in the game. It asks us to pledge allegiance to more than just the flag.
It calls us to pledge allegiance to the ideal of “liberty and justice for all”.
And that’s the dilemma we face with the NFL National Anthem policy.
Can we look around at our country and say, without a doubt, that we are actively pursuing liberty and justice for all? If we’re truly honest, can we really say that all citizens, regardless of their race, are being treated fairly by the institutions that are supposed to serve and protect them?
It’d be delusional to say yes to either of those questions.
So, what’s the answer?
Being angry at players protesting isn’t going to help the situation.
Silencing them through intimidation and fines isn’t going to make the injustice go away.
Twisting the conversation to make it about “blue lives” or respect for military personnel or first responders doesn’t address the core issue.
Conversely, portraying police as the “enemy” doesn’t help, either. What helps is when all parties involved take the time and patience to reach out and understand each other. I don’t see this mentioned often, but quite a few NFL teams and players have made bold, intentional steps to facilitate conversations between communities of color and law-enforcement agencies. There’s a lot of good work happening already.
But nothing is really going to provide a lasting peace to this issue until we confront the ugly truth that our country has a race problem. And I don’t say that lightly or with any intent to demean our country, but with the greatest amount of love and desire for our country to be better.
I’m a white guy. I could pretend there’s no issue at all or that racism isn’t my issue because it doesn’t affect me.
But I’m a human being and I’m a person who believes in a God that created all of us equally. It hurts my soul to witness racism or oppression of any group, so I’m unwilling to look away or do nothing.
Liberty and justice for all. That’s what we pledge and what we should be striving for. It lifts all of us.
Am I going to play Fantasy Football this year? I don’t know yet.
But I do know that I’m going to keep reaching and teaching and preaching that our noblest goal is liberty and justice for all.
Maybe we should start saying the Pledge of Allegiance at the beginning of games instead of the National Anthem. I don’t really enjoy singing, anyway.