Notes From the Desk: Flags in the Wind


As a Chicago Bears fan, I’ve always found football season a source wasted hope and flat out disappointment.

A blowout 21-point loss to the Green Bay Packers seemed like another fitting end for an aggressively mediocre team. The ending of the game saddened me, but it was the beginning that carried the most tension many people tuning in across the country.

As the national anthem played, a few players chose to take the knee in protest of police brutality and racism in the United States. Behind them, members of both team and some fans in the stands linked arms in solidarity and support of their right to protest. All of this comes in direct reaction to the fattest thumbs on Twitter demanding that NFL owners “fire any son of a bitch who disrespects our flag.”

How is it that a piece of cloth can send America’s favorite sport ripping at its own throat? How is it that the act of sitting or kneeling before that piece of cloth can drive parts of this country to their feet in indignation?

It is because, as we all know, this issue is not one of respect for symbols. No one would bother protesting a bundle of stitches. It is the ideas and history swaddled in that flag that drive us to protest and conflict — the ideals of fair play, equity and liberty, nestled right next to a history of slavery, inequality and hatred.

In that flag, we see our America and the rancor surrounding protests before that flag has become a proxy for a far more consequential question: How do we truly perceive this country? Do we stand in respect for what this country claims to represent, or do we kneel in mourning for the death and the destruction this country has perpetuated (and continues to perpetuate) both within its borders and abroad? Can any answer offer an acceptable middle ground?

No one can answer these questions for anyone but his or herself. The truth is, the United States is so ideologically diverse that simply seeing the flag is as likely to remind one of the loving patriotism shown after terror attacks as it is to remind us of the caskets carrying young men sent to Iraqi deserts to secure cheap oil.

Viewed like this, the debate over the flag is not so much of irrational shouting match as a national contemplation of our identity. The winds of change are sweeping across our nation and the flag twists in the sky as another symbol of the tension that change carries with it.