Do you remember what our country was like immediately after 9/11? In the face of unimaginable sorrow, destruction and death, we collectively did what Americans do: we picked ourselves up by our bootstraps and we got back to living. Patriotism was at an all-time high — the American flag waved on every corner, a beacon amid the darkness and a symbol of unity, strength and resolve. The positive to come out of 9/11 was our renewed sense of pride in our country.
The flag was raised at Ground Zero — remember the iconic photo of firefighters with the flag above them, taking the focus off the unimaginable destruction behind it?
The flag has been raised in triumph on battlefields, draped on the coffins of fallen soldiers and adorned the uniforms of our military men and women. It was even raised on the moon when man landed there.
Remember during the first Gulf War, when everyone started wearing flag pins? Patriotism was stronger than it had been for quite some time. In the midst of the war, the late Whitney Houston sang the national anthem at the Super Bowl in a rendition many consider to be the greatest of all time. An entire nation was transfixed, goosebumps all around. A big, tough linebacker was even spotted with tears streaming down his face.
At a recent East Tennessee State football game, the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachuted into the stadium, the first one bearing the American flag, while the Marching Bucs played the national anthem. It was an incredible, powerful sight and the crowd loved it. One of the most heartening parts was hearing a large contingent from the student section chanting “USA! USA! USA!” following the anthem. It gave me hope.
I’ve spent time in elementary school classrooms, hearing 20 tiny voices unite solemnly in the Pledge of Allegiance. I’ve watched wounded veterans use all their strength to stand for the national anthem, even though their wheelchair excuses them from standing. Earnest displays of patriotism bring tears to my eyes.
As if our country wasn’t divided enough amid our current political climate, now we are arguing over whether or not it’s right to show disrespect to our flag and those who have fought and died for it. At the very founding of our country, the flag was raised in cities as we gained control over them from the British, the very symbol of victory for our fledgling nation. Our nation was built on the principles of freedom, including freedom of speech, which is now — ironically enough — being used as an excuse to dishonor our flag.
In the 1960s, disrespect of the flag came in the form of burning, most often as a form of protest against the Vietnam War. In 2017, the flag is at the center of protests by many NFL teams.
Protesting the flag is a right people enjoy thanks to our First Amendment, which was ratified in 1791 — about four years after the flag itself was adopted. The flag is a visible reminder of the intangible freedoms granted by our Constitution.
When our flag was adopted, our nation was far from perfect. Certainly, racial inequality was far worse than it is now, since slavery was standard practice. (Although it’s important to remember we didn’t invent it; it was a holdover from the British and we eliminated it in less than a century.) So, if people were really serious about their reasons for protesting, shouldn’t they have been kneeling all along? Looking at it through that lens makes the protests seem a little hollow.
Professional athletes are not always good examples to our children, of course. The news often includes items about athletes guilty of domestic abuse, drug use, murder or other crimes. Though there are many athletes who can be held in high esteem, they are not all worthy of imitation. In the NFL alone, there’s an average of one arrest every seven days. Many athletes use their considerable platform negatively.
In the days just after 9/11, a return to professional sports seemed insignificant. But once games were underway again, they provided a pleasant distraction and a common interest for devastated Americans. Displays of patriotism during games were a welcome reminder of our unity and common goal of overcoming evil.
If we’re distracted by our division against each other, how will we ever overcome the evils that surround us? Standing together in the presence of our flag is an opportunity to show unity and share a common spirit of pride and patriotism. It shouldn’t take another world-altering event to remind us that we live in the greatest nation in the world and that our flag represents all the promise, pride and hope we share. God bless America.
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community volunteer. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.