Primarily the threat will menace young athletic participants. With renewed talk among professional athletes about protesting during the national anthem prior to contests, no doubt some high schoolers will wish to copy them, not realizing the ignorance they emanate or the cancerous attitude they court. Along the way, they’ll hear a lot of half-baked, if not patently dishonest, arguments trying to sanitize the idea of flag protests at sporting events.
Understand that the American flag represents symbolically government based upon a discrete set of principles establishing the American political order, attempting to achieve maximal liberty yet ensuring a necessary amount of equality: (1) acceptance of the principle of majority rule, (2) free exchange of opinion and information, (3) availability of realistic choices and actions for self-governance, (4) freedom to act upon one's belief, including the right to persuade others, (5) belief that government exists to serve human beings, not the reverse, (6) acceptance of government by law, not by man (better known as rule by law), (7) protection of the political rights of minority interests, and (8) equality before the law and in the opportunity to participate in its making.
Further, these exist interwoven, contrary to the dubious “cafeteria” argument advanced by protest defenders that remonstrations target only individual principles they believe don’t receive societal and therefore governmental support. Under this formulation where people pick and choose which of these they wish to assign it while excluding others, the flag becomes meaningless as a symbol of shared understandings about the political order. Something that means anything according to anybody’s whims ultimately signifies nothing shared among everybody.
Note as well the inherent hypocrisy if one can claim American flag protest may occur on this basis yet also argues to prohibit display of the Confederate flag. Defenders of showing the Stars and Bars use the exact same argument in their support of its display, justifying that by pointing out meritorious ideas behind the Confederacy such as the right of self-rule while ignoring its primary purpose as a perpetuator of human bondage. You can’t have it both ways.
This means, in the final analysis, that to protest the flag ultimately expresses a loathing of these ideas behind the American political order, and fails to honor those who sacrificed in its defense because by definition they fought for a bad cause. Those who disclaim this attitude as a motivation for their protesting haven’t devoted the time or energy to transcend their ignorance and really understand the message they convey.
Public educational institutions in America have no business in failing to discourage this attitude among their students. Keep in mind that this kind of protest differs from that covered in the jurisprudence stemming from the Flag Salute cases, where students may show indifference towards the flag for reasons of conscience. The latest trend involves symbolic gestures explicitly designed as protest.
At the same time, students don’t shed their right to freedom of expression at the schoolhouse door unless that impedes a school’s educational mission, and it’s borderline to argue that protesting prior to a game does that even if it draws an intense and broad negative reaction from attendees. Thus, a school can’t outright prohibit this protest through penalty, for example, of kicking transgressors off a team.
But officials from school boards on down can remind coaches that such student-athletes damage team chemistry and morale by publicizing their hatred, or lack of awareness that they express this attitude, of the principles behind which their whole schooling was founded. And that such team members should not play to prevent this damaging disharmony. And that evaluations of their coaching in part will come from this.
Consider as well the teaching moment that this policy would encourage: you may disagree with the application of the principles involved, in that in your opinion actions fail to uphold adequately these principles, but that you can support the principle without acknowledging its perfect fulfillment. It’s the same reason over 3,000 black servicemen died in the Korean War, making the ultimate sacrifice not because they supported Jim Crow in the south, but because they supported the ideas of protection of their political rights and equality before the law and in the opportunity to participate in its making even as they knew in practice these often were denied – but their sacrifice kept alive the potential that this would change.
And American history has validated that practices out of line with the principles behind its political order eventually do come into line. Honoring those principles by honoring the flag (Sunday was Flag Day) and those who fought for these principles will do more to accomplish this than evincing a thoughtless if not uninformed and trendy rejection of it.