In light of the recent and growing controversy over pro athletes taking a knee during the national anthem, G. K. Chesterton’s essay entitled “The Flag of the World” is worth revisiting.
True patriots, GKC says, aren’t those who turn a blind eye to a problem. Rather, they love their world enough to seek its improvement. They are like a woman who stands ready to defend her man before enemies but, at home, is “almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head.” Genuine love is like that: it says the hard thing not in spite of loyalty but because of loyalty.
One thing that has struck me about these athletes who #takeaknee is that most of them have managed to do so respectfully. Imagine the difference in their message if they were to turn their backs on the flag or spit on the playing field at the end of the anthem. I haven’t seen anything like that. I’ve seen helmets removed, a humble demeanor, and in some cases hands over hearts while kneeling. It suggests to me that these men do not hate our country but love it. Their desire to see our faults acknowledged and addressed doesn’t appear to be motivated by wholesale hatred but genuine care.
I could be wrong in my evaluation. However, it appears that these men, in taking a knee, aren’t concerned with demolition but construction. They want to remodel, to build, to improve the American experience. To quote GKC again, they’re storming the castle in order to make it a better home:
For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralise each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.
Chesterton’s perspective is worth pondering. True patriotism loves a thing enough to think it’s worth improving.
* “The Flag of the World” can be found in GKC’s book Orthodoxy.
* For Tony Dungy’s behind-the-scenes interview with Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins (pictured above), click here.
* UPDATE: Colin Kaepernick, who was the first to protest, didn’t begin by kneeling during the anthem but by sitting on the bench. After discussing the matter with Army Green Beret Nate Boyer, Kaepernick began kneeling during the anthem in order to show respect. See Boyer’s initial open letter to Kaepernick here, and the article recounting their personal meeting here.