For 50 years, I could not “take a knee” during the National Anthem.
I would have been fired, and rightly so.
That puts me, by experience, in opposition to the actions of some professional football and baseball players who, while in uniform and on the job, use their attention-commanding jobs to advance their personal political beliefs.
I do understand their motivations. I don’t accept their tactics.
Basically, they are calling attention to their beliefs that our country continues to discriminate on the basis of race in a way that endangers some of our lives.
That kind of political protest is far more serious than waving a “Trump for President” (or a “Hillary for President”) sign.
Some “outraged” fans are overreacting.
The players’ protest is not per se disrespectful of the National Anthem or Old Glory.
So far, all they have done is kneel down.
They have not shown flagrant disrespect to the National Anthem, to Old Glory on display, or to fans.
Kneeling is not disrespectful. In some circumstances, kneeling or down-and-up “genuflection,” can be a gesture of reverence and respect.
The gesture offends our sensibilities, but inflicts no actual harm.
This is not flag burning. This is not burning of draft cards. This is not hanging in effigy. Those forms of “symbolic speech,” though legal, are in my view despicable. When they occurred while I was a newspaper editor, I reported them, but did my best to not promote them or the morons who used those tactics to publicize their viewpoints.
For example, when the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in DuBois some years ago, the Courier-Express reported the event. No photos. No interviews. Just a reporter observing what happened, and summarizing those events in a story that did not make the front page.
We did not give the Klan any more ink than was necessary, because its racist views are despicable and un-American.
“Take a knee” is not in that hate-monger category.
The protesters have a First Amendment rights to free speech. They do not have the right to have their speech accepted.
Their employers have a right to fire them for getting political “on company time” if their actions offend the employers’ customers — fans.
Journalists (reporters, photographers, editors) can be fired immediately for public political statements made while working because their very actions imply that their newspapers or broadcast stations might take the same positions.
That can cause loss of income and, in extreme cases, can put companies right out of business.
Locally, when DuBois plays Brookville in a sports event, reporters and photographers are careful to not wear caps, shirts or jackets that say “DuBois” or “Brookville.”
If someone slipped up, a supervisor would warn the person.
But if the behavior persisted and was deliberate, in my day we would fire the person. I never had to fire someone for doing that. But I would have done so.
Today, I can wear a “DuBois” or a “Brookville” cap to a DuBois/Brookville sporting event.
I am retired.
I am no longer a journalist.
“Waitaminnit, Denny! This column that you wrote is in a newspaper. That makes you a journalist.”
Comic strips also appear in newspapers. Their creators are not journalists.
I am a freelance writer.
So I am free to express my political opinions. During the last election cycle, my wife and I each claimed one of the two large doors on the upper part of our barn that the state highway in front of our farm. She, a liberal, got the left-hand door. I, being a centrist, got the right-hand door, because there is no middle door.
We put political signs on those doors.
That caused no grumbling; it is not controversial to say, “Vote for Jane Smith.”
But even though I could put up “John Jones is a political idiot!” signs, I won’t while I still write for newspapers. Rational people can disagree with “Vote for...” signs but take no offense. “Idiot” signs do offend.
If I did put up “political idiot” signs that could negatively affect the newspaper, its editor could decide to stop buying my columns. The newspaper is actually my customer, not my employer.
By and large, pro athletes have been coddled since childhood. No wonder they feel that ordinary rules don’t apply to them.
But they should be taught that lesson via fans’ complaints to the teams and/or leagues that can reduce their salaries through lower attendance, not buying team gear, etc.
I find “take a knee” distasteful, but no worse. Even though I believe the athletes’ cause is righteous, their methodology is the wrong tactic in the wrong setting.
That makes me less inclined to sympathize with them, less likely to listen to their message or take action to support it.
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CORRECTION: The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, occurred 16 years ago, not 17 years ago as I mistakenly asserted in the column published on Sept. 18.
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Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org