Patriotism: Kneeling Football Players vs. Upside-Down Flags

A call for introspection and a more nuanced understanding of patriotism and protest is crucial. By critically analyzing the role of media, political influence, and societal norms, individuals can move beyond simplistic, binary views of patriotism and begin to appreciate the complexity and diversity of expression that defines a truly democratic society.


6/8/20245 min read

Introduction: Defining Patriotism

Patriotism, a concept often enveloped in a myriad of emotions and interpretations, embodies a deep love and respect for one’s country. This allegiance manifests in various symbolic acts that are traditionally associated with honoring the nation. Standing for the national anthem and displaying the flag are quintessential examples of these symbolic gestures. However, the interpretation of what constitutes a patriotic act can differ significantly among diverse groups of people, leading to contentious debates and controversies.

One prominent example is the act of kneeling during the national anthem, popularized by football players such as Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick's decision to kneel was intended as a peaceful protest against racial injustice and police brutality, yet it was met with polarized reactions. Some viewed it as a disrespectful act towards the flag and the nation, while others saw it as a courageous stand for civil rights and social justice.

In contrast, the act of flying the flag upside down, which traditionally signals distress or extreme danger, has also sparked debate. A notable instance involved a Supreme Court Justice, whose display of the flag in this manner elicited a range of responses. To some, it was a profound statement on the state of the nation, while others perceived it as an unpatriotic gesture.

These instances highlight the double standards often present in the perception of patriotic acts. The same symbolic gestures can be viewed through completely different lenses, influenced by personal beliefs, cultural backgrounds, and societal values. This blog post aims to delve deeper into these double standards, examining how actions like kneeling during the anthem and flying the flag upside down are interpreted and the implications of these interpretations on the broader understanding of patriotism.

The Kneeling Controversy: A Protest Misunderstood

The act of kneeling during the national anthem by football players began as a powerful form of protest against racial injustice and police brutality. This movement was notably spearheaded by Colin Kaepernick in 2016, who chose to kneel instead of stand as a means to draw attention to systemic racism and the disproportionate violence faced by African Americans. Kaepernick articulated his stance clearly, stating, "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

However, this form of protest was met with significant backlash from various segments of the population who perceived the act as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the nation and its military. Critics argued that kneeling during the anthem disrespects the sacrifices made by service members. This sentiment was echoed by political figures, including former President Donald Trump, who suggested that players who kneel should be fired. Legislative attempts were also made in certain states to penalize such protests, further fueling the controversy.

The disconnect between the protest's intended message and the public's reception highlights a broader issue of understanding and empathy. While players aimed to spotlight critical social issues, their method was often misinterpreted as a direct attack on the nation's symbols rather than a call for justice and reform. This misunderstanding underscores the complexities of patriotism and the varied interpretations of what it means to honor one's country.

The Upside-Down Flag: Symbolism in Crisis

Flying the American flag upside down has historically signified dire distress and a call for urgent assistance. This symbolic act is deeply rooted in maritime traditions, where an inverted flag was a clear signal that a ship was in grave danger, requiring immediate aid. Over time, this practice has transcended its nautical origins and entered the realm of broader socio-political discourse. When observed in a non-maritime context, an upside-down flag typically conveys a sense of extreme peril or a profound protest against perceived injustices.

One notable instance of this symbolism being invoked in modern times involved a Supreme Court Justice, who chose to display the flag in this manner. This act was not taken lightly and was widely analyzed within the backdrop of prevailing political and social issues. At the time, the nation was grappling with significant debates over constitutional rights, systemic injustices, and the moral direction of the country. By flying the flag upside down, the Justice was effectively issuing a distress signal, drawing attention to what they perceived as critical threats to the nation's democratic and ethical foundations.

Public reactions to such a powerful symbol are often polarized. Some view the upside-down flag as a legitimate form of protest, resonating with those who feel a deep sense of urgency about the nation's trajectory. These individuals see it as a non-violent yet potent expression of alarm, aligning with historical uses of the symbol. Others, however, may not find it offensive or might even interpret it as a protective measure, acknowledging the gravity of the situation being highlighted without necessarily agreeing with the method.

When comparing public reactions to the upside-down flag and kneeling during the national anthem, a complex picture emerges. Both are forms of protest that challenge traditional symbols of patriotism, yet they evoke different emotional responses. Some people might view kneeling as a direct affront to national pride, while an upside-down flag might be seen as a more nuanced, albeit urgent, plea for national introspection and reform. This disparity in perception underscores the varied ways in which symbols can be interpreted and the double standards often associated with acts of patriotism.

The Cult of Double Standards: Analyzing Public Perception

The public perception of patriotic acts and protests is often shaped by an intricate web of media influence, political rhetoric, and societal norms. The stark difference in reactions to kneeling football players and the display of upside-down flags exemplifies these double standards. This disparity can be traced back to how media channels frame these acts. For instance, while some news outlets portray kneeling during the national anthem as a disrespectful gesture against the nation, others highlight it as a peaceful protest against racial injustice. Such contrasting narratives contribute significantly to the public's divided stance.

Political influence also plays a pivotal role. Politicians often leverage these acts to galvanize their bases, framing them in ways that align with their political agendas. For example, some political figures may condemn kneeling as unpatriotic, thereby rallying support from those who view traditional displays of patriotism as sacrosanct. Conversely, the same figures might downplay the significance of an upside-down flag, particularly if it aligns with their political stance or agenda. This selective condemnation or support fosters a culture where double standards thrive.

Societal norms and the concept of 'cult-like' behavior further exacerbate these double standards. In many cases, groups adhere to a set of beliefs or behaviors without critical analysis, creating an echo chamber effect. This phenomenon is particularly evident in the realm of patriotism and protest. People are more likely to support or condemn an act based on group identity rather than an objective appraisal of the act itself. This adherence to group norms often leads to an uncritical acceptance of double standards.

A call for introspection and a more nuanced understanding of patriotism and protest is crucial. By critically analyzing the role of media, political influence, and societal norms, individuals can move beyond simplistic, binary views of patriotism and begin to appreciate the complexity and diversity of expression that defines a truly democratic society.

Photo By: Aaron Burden