It’s been quite a month for declarations of patriotism, with the remembrance this week of the 17th anniversary of terrorists’ attacks coming after the controversy of a marketing campaign with a former pro athlete.

The national unity experienced after the events of September 2001 was unparalleled in my lifetime; I wasn’t alive to know the single-mindedness the United States felt during World War II. Today, Americans are at the totally opposite end of the unity spectrum.

Patriot Day, which was marked Tuesday, arrived one week after an athletic apparel company announced it would shine its advertising spotlight on a former pro football player who protested racial injustice during the playing of the National Anthem before games.

Sides had already been chosen over Nike’s commercial in the few days before the spot aired during an NFL game. The only thing many people needed to know before condemning the commercial as sacrilege was that Colin Kaepernick was featured in it. Douse shoes with gasoline, strike a match, and let the Facebook memes begin. Meanwhile, others who supported the issue behind his protest took an equally rigid stance.

Nike stock prices dropped initially, but by the middle of this week, online sales soared 31 percent — which was the ultimate strategy anyway. Nike’s politics were embraced by the company’s target customers, and hopefully some cast-off clothing survived and was donated to people in need.

Lost in the debate was the commercial itself, something people on both sides of the issue didn’t bother to watch. The spot isn’t completely polarizing.

Also featured, among several celebrity athletes, are lesser-known competitors like skateboarder Nyjah Huston, 23, who is training for the 2020 Olympics. There’s wrestler Isaiah Byrd, 10, who was born without legs. Meet wheelchair basketball standout Megan Blunk, 29, who was paralyzed in a traffic accident a decade ago. Also, high school linebacker and homecoming queen Alicia Woollcott of Michigan.

Perhaps without Kaepernick’s involvement, such inspiring individuals would have become the main story. Or perhaps not.

After watching Kaepernick and other players sitting or kneeling during the posting of the colors and playing of the National Anthem, many decided it doesn’t matter what his protest is: “This is not the time or place.”

Yet, before such drastic public action, his protests weren’t being heard. Now, it’s possible that his method has overshadowed his message.

Protest has long been an American privilege. It’s how the republic came into existence. But the codes of conduct for the flag and anthem are clear, with Supreme Court-ruled exemptions for religious reasons. We stand at attention, with respect.

Then, while we’re being critical of the intentional acts of others, let’s examine our own actions and make sure we’re not disrespecting the flag through carelessness. The same code indicates that we fail to honor the flag when it’s used for clothing, advertising, or decoration (except coffins), when we store it drawn back or bunched, when it’s used as a costume or as a receptacle (like plates), draped over a vehicle, flown while torn or tattered, and carried flat or horizontally (as when flags are held spread across a field or are laid on a table).

Different people are free to respond differently to America and its symbols, and we are free to choose how to peacefully exercise that liberty. We take stands. We disagree. We debate. That’s how it works.

It’s not only the American way, it’s our strength.

 

Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at news@brownwoodbulletin.com.