Sports, the military, freedom of speech, and social protest

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 1968

Tommie Smith and John Carlos, 1968

My association with social protest at sporting events goes way back. In the mid-1960’s, runner Tommie Smith was my classmate at San Jose State. Half a century ago he was setting records right and left, and two years later, in 1968, he won gold at the Mexico City Olympics. His Black Power salute atop the medals platform was a way of protesting, and raising awareness of, the treatment of Blacks in the United States.

Almost fifty years later, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the National Anthem at football games, an action that soon spread even to high school sports. The reason is … the treatment of Blacks in the United States.

I can understand the NFL and the networks being embarrassed over this. I can even understand individuals disagreeing both with the position that Kaepernick represents, and his way of displaying it. The same thing happened to Smith, back in the day. What I can’t understand is those people who feel he is somehow being disrespectful of the US military.

Carlos Kaepernick and Erick Reid, 2016

Carlos Kaepernick and Erick Reid, 2016

Was he showing disrespect towards the United States of America? Yes. Certainly. That’s the whole point. He was saying that it does not deserve our respect because of the way it treats its citizens. Does that also mean disrespect for the military, as some have claimed? Because it’s a military honor guard that’s carrying the flag for the National Anthem? The same US military that paid pro sports millions of dollars for the publicity opportunity? Gimme a break.

If you ask those in the military, most of them get it. It’s called free speech and it’s one of the reasons that we in the military fought and fight for the USA. But if you only protect speech you agree with, then it’s not free speech at all. Justice Ginsburg understands this, even as she deplores his actions. It doesn’t matter if you disagree with Kaepernick’s actions, if you respect the USA, and you respect the military, then the only course of action for you is to follow Evelyn Beatrice Hall‘s summary of Voltaire: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.


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One Response to “Sports, the military, freedom of speech, and social protest”

  1. Sandra L Christensen Says:

    It bothers me that it’s “the country” that we think of as being disrespected. What is being disrespected is the people in the country who have not found a way (or even tried to find a way) to treat all people as people. Your dog can do that, why can’t humans? I have no problem with people pointing out in a peaceful way, as Kaepernick, Smith, and many others are doing or did, that there is a problem here. But let’s take it to the level at which it belongs–you and me and all the rest of us who put up with it or turn away when we see it. When we leave it at the country level, it is so very easy to think of it as someone else’s problem.

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