Sinclair Lewis, Blue Jeans, and Broken Necks: The Reaction to Kneeling for the Anthem


“It’s a hateful world. I’m not here to spread hate. I’m not here to respond to the hate. I’m here to spread love and positivity….. It’s cool because people can call me the N-word or cuss at me or say they wish I would break my neck all they want. There’s no backlash from me. Hate can’t drive out hate. Only love can drive out hate.”

— Brandon Marshall, on the response to his decision to kneel for the national anthem

I’ll preface this by stating as clearly as I can: This is not about Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit/kneel, or the others like Brandon Marshall who joined him.

This is about the reaction and ensuing controversy. Some quick points, if I may:

1) All they did was not stand. And then they knelt, which was a mature concession to show that they did feel respect, and their protest was not just some cavalier middle-finger to America.

They didn’t take away anyone else’s right to stand. They didn’t shame anyone who stood. They didn’t make farting sounds with their armpits throughout the anthem. They were as unobtrusive as can be, while still taking a stand for what they believe in.

So, to wish for broken necks? Charming as always, internet.

2.) Some, like Ted Cruz, said: “They’re rich, spoiled athletes.”

You realize that having money & excelling in a field that pays well doesn’t mean you forfeit your right to have opinions, right?

In fact, we need more people in the spotlight, people with platforms, to speak up. It’s the ones who don’t who trouble me. The ones content to take those hefty paychecks and fan adulation and not do anything for social progress. The spotlight is a gift, and those who want to use it in service of the ones without voices are to be commended.

3.) I’m not sure about the demand to publicly revere a symbol of America and freedom — on penalty of universal censure and threats of violence if you don’t.

It’s like the current debate about reciting the daily Pledge of Allegiance at my son’s school. “They’d BETTER be saying it……..” some of the parents say. To which I respond, wearily: “Indeed, nothing says ‘freedom’ like a forced public oath of loyalty.” (Yes, I am a little sarcastic.)

Honestly, the kids don’t even understand the words; they’re 6. It’s a rote recitation. Want to make a daily pledge? Pledge to be kind.

Because to be so consumed with the worship of symbols is more a hallmark of fascism than of freedom. Ribbons & flags & pledges & songs … they appeal to the viscera, not the mind, and have been used, historically, as instruments of control. (Well they have.) What is the quote misattributed to Sinclair Lewis? “When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying the Cross.

4.) Hey, for you folks who are simultaneously patriots and football fans! I can provide reasons to be outraged that are not merely symbolic.

For one example, did you know that Kaepernick’s team plays at Levi’s Stadium? Levi’s is one the most iconic & quintessentially American brands, right? The cowboy in blue jeans! Did you know they just closed plants and shipped a bunch of jobs overseas?

Or how about the fact that so many of the stadiums are built with taxpayer funds, for the financial benefit of billionaire team owners. Yes, they claim the city recovers the money. A fraction of it, perhaps. But only a fraction. Mostly it’s corporate welfare, reverse Robin Hood, to the tune of billions.

Maybe pay attention to stuff like that. Stuff that affects your lives everyday, in real, quantifiable ways.

5.) A word I see in all the condemnation is “ungrateful”. Sarah Palin and others of her, let us say, “mindset”, have used that word.

Kaepernick’s team is the San Francisco 49ers. San Francisco is one of the most progressive cities in the nation and, still, 5 veteran police officers, including a sergeant, got busted engaging in “banter” via texts and emails about black “savages” full of statements like “all n—ers must be hanged” and “keep a gun ready in case the monkey returns to his roots. It’s legal to put an animal down…….” (The texts are numerous–and horrible–if anyone wants to read further.) Mind you, this was only a couple years after Oscar Grant was shot at Fruitvale Station.

So you know what? If a person of color feels betrayed and let down or in any way hurt by his own country, or excluded from the freedoms that Flag represents, it is callous to say: “Shut up and be grateful.”

Or half the country thinks these “religious freedom” laws that allow basic goods and services to be denied on the basis of sexuality is okay. (Really? Didn’t we have the “who can sit at the Woolworth’s counter” conversation 50 years ago?) If I was Megan Rapinoe, the LGBT soccer player who took a knee in solidarity with Kaeprenick, I might think: “Hey, half my countrymen think it’s okay to not serve me pizza, or marry the one I love.” I might not stand either.

There was a video that went viral a while ago, after Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson. A white woman yelled at a black protester, “We’re the ones who gave y’all your freedom in the first place!

Sorry, what now? Beg pardon? Did you want a thank-you card? I’m not sure “freedom” over another human being was yours to give, unless you think you are superior race.


Now, you might draw the conclusion from all of this that I supported the protest itself. Actually, I didn’t support it. But I didn’t condemn it either.

It’s their choice, their lives, their body of experiences that I can’t presume to know. And to be honest, the only thing on my mind at the start of football Sunday is “please don’t let my team suck as they much did last year………

But anyone who condemned the kneelers who might be reading this: I bet you didn’t remember, or never even knew, about the SFPD texts.

I bet you had to google Oscar Grant.

So maybe the protest did achieve a worthy end, a bit? Here we are … talking.

I’ll end with a copy-and-paste of a correspondence I received from a friend of mine. Her father sounds like an incredible man. (Thank you for sharing, Frances!)

So, I’m talking with my dad — the man I respect more than any other on the planet. A man who voluntarily did two tours in Viet Nam as a colonel; not because he believed in the war but because he knew he could bring boys home safe in his capacity as their leader. — and this man, this humanitarian, this decorated war veteran would like everyone to know that he sacrificed so you could QUESTION your government, not so you could be bullied into saluting a flag.

If your government is acting badly, he wants you to know that he considers his sacrifice in vain if you are afraid to point out that bad behavior for fear of being called un-patriotic.

Just in case you were wondering how the veterans feel, while you romanticize nationalism and presume to speak for them.

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Follow Cindi on her Facebook page Kicking Ass for the Middle Class. She is a lifelong liberal, a writer, an actiivist, and a mother. She tries to live her life by the Emerson dictum: “Be silly. Be truthful. Be kind.”