Honorable protests

As times change, voice of conscience remains

Oct 9, 2017 by

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Few protests are remembered for 500 years, like Martin Luther’s. Or even 50, like anti-Vietnam War marches. Dem­onstrations by National Football League players this fall may be historic or fleeting, but they’re part of an honorable tradition of dissidents who seek positive change and stand on the right side of history.

Before every NFL game Sept. 24-25, some form of protest took place on the sidelines. A small movement that began a year ago exploded after President Trump lambasted players who knelt during the national anthem to make a statement on racial injustice. By using a crude phrase to describe them and asserting they should lose their jobs, the president belittled free speech — and multiplied the number of protesters. Hundreds of players knelt, sat, stood with interlocked arms or re­mained in the locker room during the anthem.

Professional athletes have a unique platform of influence. To tell a man to be quiet and stick to football disrespects his right to speak for those who might never be heard. And to dem­onstrate in whatever nonviolent way draws attention, even using a “sacred” moment like the playing of the national anthem.

The NFL players showed the power of peaceful protest to raise awareness of a moral cause. One’s conscience might be stirred by police brutality, abortion or war. The time for action might be the playing of the anthem, the anniversary of a Supreme Court ruling or the shooting of an unarmed black teen­ager. Speaking freely to correct the nation’s faults honors the values the flag and anthem symbolize.

It was fitting that pro­tests spread across the NFL while a magisterial history of the Viet­nam War on PBS recounted protesters’ pivotal role in confronting national sin. (The Bethel College Moratorium observance in 1969 was shown for a few seconds.) People of faith stood at the forefront of the antiwar movement. Many considered their actions patriotic. They were right — about patriotism and about the war.

Times and causes change, but the voice of conscience remains. Eric Reid of the San Francisco 49ers wrote in The New York Times: “My faith moved me to take action. . . . I knew I need­ed to stand up for what is right.”

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