What do George Washington, MLK and Colin Kaepernick have in common?

The Observer editorial board

Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem prior to their game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday.
Buffalo Bills players kneel during the national anthem prior to their game against the Denver Broncos on Sunday. AP

Donald Trump spent the weekend distorting the reason athletes began peacefully protesting during the national anthem and misusing his power to try to squelch the speech of those with whom he disagrees. Those athletes responded the way patriots do, by defying unethical authority. Charlotte native Stephen Curry is also part of the fight, refusing to participate in a White House trip for championship teams.

It’s an American legacy that dates to when colonists demanded freedom and were willing to sacrifice for it. That’s what Colin Kaepernick did when he began taking a knee last year knowing it could cost him his job. That’s what an entire WNBA team did before a playoff game recently. That’s what more than 130 NFL players did on Sunday. It is the kind of defiance that is the hallmark of the United States of America, the kind that has made this nation greater than it otherwise would be.

Imagine if Benjamin Franklin and George Washington listened to the critics who told them not to defy King George. Imagine if Harriet Tubman decided to adhere to laws that prohibited freeing slaves instead of honoring the humanity of slaves. What if Ida B. Wells decided it was too risky to document lynchings that went unpunished, or Susan B. Anthony said women shouldn’t legally be treated like the equal of men, or Frank Kameny gave into the demands of preachers and politicians who wanted gay people closeted.

Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr. had given in to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s myriad attempts to silence the civil rights icon.

And if you think it makes little sense to compare what’s going on now with that rich American legacy, remember that each of those Americans was considered radical and ungrateful by those who didn’t want to be discomforted by the fight to make the United States live up to its stated ideals. In a world in which patriotism is about more than standing during the national anthem, even those unconvinced by the purpose of the protest – to highlight racism and police brutality, not to disrespect the flag – would take a knee. They could do so in solidarity with those who knelt, or just to send a reminder to Trump that Americans aren’t easily cowed.

While NASCAR legends such as Richard Petty said they’d fire anyone not standing during the anthem, Dale Earnhardt Jr. better understands the threat of Trump’s weekend rant, tweeting: “All Americans R granted rights 2 peaceful protests. Those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable-JFK”

It is true that soldiers died to help secure the freedom from which each of us benefits. It is also clear that black Americans have been sacrificing since the founding of this country, that their refusal to simply stay in their place and accept the status quo is one of the primary reasons there is no country where freedom flourishes more than here.

Trump, on the other hand, was privileged since he was a fetus in his mother’s womb. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t understand that fighting for equality is what true patriots do.