Sue Ann Morgan didn’t miss a minute of the royal wedding.
“I got up at 5 o’clock and watched the whole thing” on May 19, when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle became the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. Royal interest notwithstanding, Morgan notes that Americans enjoy certain unalienable rights.
“The First Amendment is the first one for a reason,” said Morgan, who’s troubled by the National Football League’s new policy mandating players on the field “stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Players may remain in their locker rooms or otherwise out of sight until after the national anthem, a distinction that doesn’t give Morgan comfort.
“I will stand for the national anthem and put my hand on my heart, but I will also kneel and protest if I feel the need to,” she said. “Patriotism is not blindly saluting the flag. We should always have our eyes open. ”
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The NFL policy comes nearly two years after former San Francisco 49ers player Colin Kaepernick, in protesting police brutality and other social injustices, started kneeling during “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Other players followed suit, and the movement’s trickle-down effect reached metro Atlanta. In February, former Attorney General Sam Olens stepped down as president of Kennesaw State University after criticism of how he handled things when cheerleaders started kneeling before football games.
President Donald Trump called the NFL’s decision “the right thing” during a “Fox & Friends” interview. “You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”
Here in metro Atlanta, conservative pundit Phil Kent said players who want to protest should find other avenues.
“Americans of good will should support the new NFL policy banning any disrespect during the playing of the national anthem at games,” he said. “There are other vehicles with which to protest policies and standing for the anthem should be something that unites all Americans.”
He’ll get no argument from Dan Blankowski, who planned to play the national anthem at pool parties during the holiday weekend and never fails to stand during pregame performances: “I find myself standing, even when I’m watching on TV.”
Robert Lockery was in the stands at Mercedes-Benz Stadium when his alma mater, the University of Georgia, met Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship in January (’Bama won). Beforehand, Trump proceeded onto the field with a military honor guard.
“As a sports fan it is important to stand for the national anthem to recognize this is only a game. We are all part of a larger community - America,” Lockery said. “People have made sacrifices for us to be able live this way. For those that don’t stand, it is a selfish act that only draws attention to the individual. If you feel strongly about a problem you should volunteer or financially support your cause in ways that actually make a difference- improving race relations, helping feed the homeless or bettering local communities.”
Some folks likened the NFL’s policy to other workplace guidelines.
“The NFL is a business and (players) are employees,” Scott Kimbler noted. “The boss is not always right, but he or she is always the boss.”
Observed Aron Siegel, “If I voice a different opinion in my workplace and express my First Amendment right to do so, I won’t go to jail, but I’m not free of consequences from both my co-workers and my employer.”
During last year’s NFL season, owners including the Atlanta Falcons’ Arthur Blank made shows of solidarity, locking arms with players during the pregame pageantry.
The official entreaties followed past comments from the top urging reverence during the anthem and U.S. flag unfurling.
“We encourage all our players to respect the flag and all our fans to do the same and everybody in attendance,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in response to a question about pregame protests. “To us, it’s a very important moment.”
He said that in Houston more than a year ago - ahead of Super Bowl LI starring the Falcons and the New England Patriots.
Melani Carter said players who kneel before games aren’t showing disrespect to the flag, the national anthem or the military but rather are highlighting social injustice.
“When you pray, you kneel. When you ask for someone’s hand in marriage, you kneel,” she said. “I’m a Falcons fan, but I’m definitely thinking about not watching this year.”
Joann Karaga sounded weary over the contention.
“We all care about equality and social justice. How can we resolve this so that all Americans can enjoy football and we can advocate for the cause? This is such a lost opportunity,” she said. “On one hand, I can’t talk about politics at work and cause controversy, so I understand the owners. On the other hand these guys aren’t protesting the flag, they’re speaking out about injustice. Perhaps we should not have the national anthem sung at every game, it’s unnecessary. Ugh.. more stuff to divide us.”