America is said to be the “land of the free and home of the brave” — at least, so says the national anthem that has played at every major sporting event for the better portion of the last century. “The Star-Spangled Banner,” penned in 1814, has been tied to sports dating back to 1862 when it was played during the inauguration of Brooklyn’s first baseball field. According to a Sept. 1 NBC News article, “the song resurfaced at baseball and college football games, usually during times of war and social upheaval.” It’s ironic that the anthem was once a way to generate a sense of morale and unite the nation, but today, it’s the cause for social upheaval. Recently, there has been an uproar about professional athletes demonstrating atypical behavior during the playing of the national anthem. Be it Gabby Douglas not placing her hand over her heart or Colin Kaepernick remaining seated during the national anthem, there has been an extremely negative public response. Granted, most Americans choose the typical hand-over-heart salute when saying the pledge or hearing the national anthem, but if we are truly free, why condemn those who choose to do otherwise?

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was originally a poem written by Francis Scott Key after the attack on Fort McHenry, during which the capitol, treasury and president’s house were all targeted by British forces. In the midst of the chaos, Key was surprised to see the American flag waving, showing that his nation had won the battle. This sense of awe inspired him to write his four-verse poem originally entitled “The Defense of Fort McHenry.” In this poem, Key paints a picture of a triumphant nation proving their resilience and demonstrating the strength needed to defy the odds. It is easy to see why it would be adapted to become the national anthem: It is exactly the kind of image that America wishes to portray — strong, powerful and resilient. However, America has had a difficult time maintaining this reputation. In terms of defending the name of the nation from outside attack, sure, America has shown its prowess, but when it comes to domestic affairs, the inadequacies begin to show. Throughout history, certain groups of people have been treated as less than equal, yet they are still asked to pledge allegiance to a nation that perpetuates this inequality. 

This selective freedom even manifests itself in “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The third verse of the poem states, “Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution/No refuge could save the hireling and slave/From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave/And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave/O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Key is acknowledging the fact the lives of enslaved people weren’t spared, but it is overshadowed because America’s flag was still standing. This line may have different meaning for all who read it, thus allowing every individual to respond in a manner that they feel is appropriate. 

Kaepernick recently chose not to stand during the national anthem because he refused to salute a nation that, he feels, blatantly disregards the lives of black and brown Americans. According to an Aug. 27 USA Today article, Kaepernick stated, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color … There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Here, Kaepernick respectfully chooses not to praise America and its flawed practices because he simply disagrees with them.

This being said, why do certain individuals take such offense when one chooses not to stand or even raise their hand if they are simply exercising their freedoms? The First Amendment right to free speech includes the right to not salute the flag, according to the ruling in the 1943 U.S. Supreme Court case West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, which ruled that forcing children to pledge allegiance is a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. 

Despite the protection of this case and the U.S. Constitution, many people who choose not to salute the flag face backlash from fellow Americans who feel that the act is disrespectful toward those in the armed services. One such person is Alex Boone, one of Kaepernick’s former teammates. In an Aug. 28 interview with USA Today, Boone stated that the flag gives Kaepernick the right to do what he wants, but he should also “have some (expletive) respect for those who served, especially people that lost their life to protect our freedom.” 

And Boone is not alone; many Americans feel that the act is disrespectful toward those who fought for Kaepernick’s rights, but by utilizing said rights and not taking them for granted, Kaepernick is doing members of the armed service an even greater honor. It would be in vain for numerous people to lose their lives in the name of “freedom” only for it to be repressed when it’s convenient. In response to accusations of being anti-military, Kaepernick said, “I realize that men and women of the military go out and sacrifice their lives and put themselves in harm’s way for my freedom of speech and my freedoms in this country and my freedom to take a seat or take a knee, so I have the utmost respect for them,” according to a Sept. 2 USA Today article.

Everyone should be able to reject any ideals that don’t align with their own; this freedom of choice and self-expression is the foundation upon which America was built. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty or Safety.” If freedom of speech is stripped to protect citizens from any possible anti-American views, then the nation will be doomed.  Kaepernick and others are simply expressing their unwillingness to praise a nation that they believe is currently in a flawed state, and they are well within their rights as citizens to do so. It is for this reason that I stand with Kaepernick’s decision to sit: No one should be forced to compromise their own opinions simply because they are different. The real issue lies with the expectation of everyone to blindly comply with the views of the masses.