Throughout the past 12 days, there have been moments that have resonated with many, for various different reasons. One of the moments that impacted me the most came from former NFL running back Arian Foster.
Appearing on Pardon My Take, Foster shared a conversation he had with a conservative commentator who had been pushing the notion that kneeling during the anthem disrespects the flag.
“You don’t have a monopoly on what it means to be American, and how to feel in America,” Foster said. “And so when you see the flag and the Star-Spangled Banner and the stripes, you get a real like gut, visceral, feel-good feeling of — I don’t. I don’t feel that sh-t, at all. I don’t. And you can’t make me feel that sh-t.
“I wish I did feel that sh-t when I heard the Star-Spangled Banner, the national [anthem]. I wish I did. But I don’t like the song. The flag, I’m real indifferent about the flag. I don’t feel like this inherent, like, I love to be an American. . . . And a lot of us feel like that.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunities that I’ve had. I’ve very grateful for all of that sh-t. But the experience that I’ve had in American does not make me feel all happy, happy, joy, joy like it does for you when you say, ‘I’m American,’ right? It’s not the same. And that experience is valid, right? And what they’re doing is they’re trying to invalidate that experience. And anytime you do that, you’re gonna lose that battle. Because this is how people feel. You can’t argue with emotions.”
Some Americans object (often loudly) to any exercise of First Amendment rights that would consist of not standing at attention with hand over heart for the full duration of the anthem. Other Americans who choose to stand during the anthem support the freedom of others to consciously (or not) behave differently during the anthem, in order to send a message. Foster’s explanation provides an important perspective for those who always stand for the anthem, stirred by positive emotions regarding what American means to them.
America doesn’t mean the same thing to people who have been oppressed by the representatives of American institutions. America doesn’t mean the same thing to people who have been mistreated by the representatives of American institutions. America doesn’t mean the same thing to people who have been injured or had friends or family members intentionally and deliberately killed by the representatives of American institutions.
Those experiences erode how some Americans feel about America. Given that, in nearly 244 years of American existence, the ideals articulated in the founding documents still aren’t fully and fairly applied to all Americans, it shouldn’t surprise those who have had a good experience in America that many have had a bad experience in America, and that these bad experiences shape how those Americans view America.
Here’s the real question, the one that those of us who have always stood for the anthem with feelings of honor and pride and patriotism in the nation for which the flag stands must address: Now that we fully and completely understand that the promise of America has been outright broken for so many, do we still feel the same way? And will we only feel that way again when the notion that “all men are created equal” is respected and that all in America have an inalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is honored and the phrase above the entry to the Supreme Court — “equal justice under law” — isn’t just four words carved into stone but a principle engrained on the soul of a country?