The flag of the United States is not a mere piece of cloth. “The Star-Spangled Banner” is not a mere tune. As national symbols, both, in their own way, stand for everything this country has stood for and everything this country strives to be. It is precisely for this reason that peaceful protests that use national symbols must be tolerated, even if they cause offense.
Even the most cursory analysis of human history shows that a society that upholds liberty and public political participation as virtues — such as the American republic — can only maintain its liberty so long as its citizens view political rights (such as peaceful protest), not as mere cliché maxims to repeat for a civics class but as an innate part of the political culture.
Disagreement over the topic of a particular protest, or debate over the effectiveness thereof, are perfectly valid points to debate. A government official attempting to stifle the culture of liberty by suggesting that any player that peacefully protests during the playing of the anthem be fired, as the president of the United States recently did, is, by definition, dangerous to political liberties.
While it must be acknowledged that, as private entities, NFL franchises have more room to act on firing their players over an anthem protest than the government, the decision by President Trump to call for any athlete who peacefully protests during the playing of the anthem to be fired raises the stakes immeasurably. Thanks to Trump, anthem protests can no longer be viewed solely via the original intent of Colin Kaepernick (i.e., calling attention to the goals of the Black Lives Matter movement). Now, NFL anthem protests have evolved into something much more serious: a defense of the culture of political liberties which must inevitably buttress the constitutional regimen of political liberties in a republic, lest the entire edifice collapse into dust.
Whether Sunday’s display of unity in protest will continue throughout the rest of the NFL season is yet to be seen. It is fair to say, however, that what started with Kaepernick and an individual protest has since evolved well beyond its original bounds, and it will not end with the actions of any sports league or athlete. The ramifications are too serious, the threat to a free society too well established in human history, for this to end now. I can understand the aversion to using the playing of the anthem as a time to protest, for it is one I admittedly share.
However, this aversion must take a second seat to the preservation of liberty. Why, you may ask?
Without liberty, what is America exactly?
— Matthew Wallack