Opinion: Where protest meets reverence

Updated Oct 23, 2017

Given the sadly viral popularity of an American pastime best described as hissing and spitting, figuratively or even literally, at anyone with whom we might disagree, it’s no surprise that “taking a knee” has rapidly entered our lexicon.

In a nation deeply riven by differences over most anything you can name, it follows naturally that protests during playing of the National Anthem, especially at sporting events, have proved controversial – and that’s putting it quite mildly.

The national argument over unconventional behavior during the anthem landed hard in metro Atlanta in recent weeks. Grumbling arose mid-week over the Atlanta Hawks locking arms in Dallas during the anthem. And a knee-in protest by some Kennesaw State University cheerleaders drew the wrath of some powerful pols, the AJC learned – enough so to suggest that KSU President Sam Olens, and/or athletic officials, acted to defuse things by keeping the cheerleaders off the field during the anthem.

After criticism of that action led the Georgia Board of Regents to look into the matter, Olens says he regrets how the situation was handled. As a lawyer well-versed in the Constitution, he should.

We only wish that Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren and State Rep. Earl Ehrhart shared those regrets. Their text-message browbeating of Olens in an effort to knee-cap the protests dishonored the very rights enshrined in the Constitution – the ones which an incessant procession of uniformed Americans have willingly died to defend.

Recognizing the rights of others to disagree is apparently too much to ask of many leaders in this age of razor-sharp, unnecessarily rancorous partisan divides. That is a shame for a nation itself born of protest against an established order.

The only thing arguably worse than the battles over the anthem and flag is that the genesis of the protests — legitimate questions over how police too-often use force against black Americans — have largely gotten lost in all the uproar over Old Glory.

That, in itself, is something that both sides would do well to think about. America should have the courage and self-interest to do that.