ESPN’s Pablo Torre put it perfectly on Twitter last night: “Imagine trying to explain to an alien how silently genuflecting in front of the flag is disrespectful but this is not.”
Now, I’m not blaming the Astros for desecrating the flag, because in America’s bizarre worldview, rubbing your crotch up against the flag and drowning it in beer is totally cool so long as it’s not an actual flag. Our priorities are so perverted that we actually believe that people kneeling during the national anthem is more offensive than something that the law clearly states is illegal. Per §176 of the US Flag Code:
The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.
If we really cared about the flag, then we wouldn’t buy flag-festooned clothing from Old Navy, Macy’s, Walmart, and a pretty much any outlet who traffics in cloth. If you assert that NFL players are disrespecting the flag, but you wear clothes with the flag on it, or lay on flag-adorned beach towels, or sleep on American flag-themed bedding, you are the dictionary definition of a hypocrite. The fact that so many can look at the Astros celebration and see nothing wrong with their treatment of the flag proves that the majority of opposition to NFL protests has absolutely nothing to do with respecting the flag, and everything to do with enforcing your version of patriotism on others.
Picture the exact same image, but instead of American flag-themed underwear, it was an actual flag (and what is the real difference between the two? They’re both just pieces of cloth manipulated for different utilities—the U.S. Flag Code understands this, even if we don’t). Now envision that member of the Astros rubbing Old Glory against his crotch, followed by the rest of the team dumping a case of beer on it. Sounds pretty disrespectful, right? So why don’t we get all up in arms when someone violates the law, and does something that we would never tolerate if it were done to an actual flag? Again, wearing the flag is an inarguable violation of the U.S. flag code. Scream all you want about your desire to demonstrate your patriotism, but you’re violating the law—which is pretty much the definition of being unpatriotic.
Those who voice opposition to NFL players protesting, but stay silent on the Astros are arguing that a new NFL policy supersedes U.S. Flag Code. The NFL began making their players come out for the anthem in 2009, yet kneeling during it is viewed as an unacceptable insult, while dousing the flag in ball sweat and alcohol is totally fine so long as it comes in a form that violates U.S. flag code. What the fuck is wrong with us?
There are so many examples of how modern America is completely lost, but our attitude towards the flag is a pretty good encapsulation of our larger failures. (White) people who violate U.S. law are claiming that (black) people who kneel during the national anthem disrespect the country. If it isn’t obvious what the undercurrent to this whole debate is, then perhaps you should study more American history, as those with darker skin are always forced to operate under much more restrictive rules than those of us who society deems to be white.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.