The real reason we don’t like athlete protests

San Francisco 49er Eric Reid kneels during the playing of the national anthem earlier this month.
San Francisco 49er Eric Reid kneels during the playing of the national anthem earlier this month. AP

A quarterback takes a knee instead of standing during our National Anthem, and a national swirl is born.

Come next season the quarterback is without a job. A few more players kneel or sit and another raises his fist in a Black Power salute after a big play. The swirl over the protests continues.

Why? Why are so many people so agitated at the quarterback, the other players, and their protests?

Most say it’s the players’ right to protest, constitutionally-speaking, though there’s actually no constitutional issue. The First Amendment applies to government restraint of speech and assembly, and there’s no allegation GovCo is getting in any anthem-protester’s way.

So if it’s a protester’s right, why are people upset with it being exercised?

Keith Larson Amelia Catherine Photography

What I’ve heard most is, because the protesting players are being disrespectful. They’re disrespecting our flag. Disrespecting our country. Disrespecting our servicemen and women who’ve died defending our country and our flag.

That’s what people say. But maybe there’s another reason.

Deep down what people really don’t like, whether they know it or not and whether they can admit it or not, is the players’ disrespecting them.

We love our country. We love our flag. We love what it stands for. We have a tradition of standing before the game to show that honor. It’s people’s own showing of respect that they don’t like being disrespected.

The fact is, though Americans are taught (used to be taught?) to revere the Bill of Rights, we don’t like protests. Especially not while a song glorifying our country is being sung, or a big flag being unfurled, or our military flying mightily overhead.

We may be willing to acknowledge generally that our country has made mistakes, but we don’t want to have to see, don’t want to have to think about, our specific imperfections, past or present. We don’t want to think about the implications of those imperfections, now or in the future. We know precisely the mistakes and imperfections these particular guys are protesting and a lot of people particularly don’t like seeing or thinking about that.

If we see, we might just see some things that aren’t good.

If we see, we might have to admit some things should change.

If we see, we might ourselves be changed. That’s what scares us.

This is why we don’t want protests where 75,000 of us are gathered on sunny Sundays celebrating our team and – in those singing, flag-waving, fly-over moments – our country’s greatness.

We like protests to happen at appointed places and times, off in some designated someplace we are not. Makes it easier to not see them.

We like protesters corralled into approved areas that are often called, cynically, “First Amendment Zones.” Makes it easier not to hear them.

Here’s something we might try at the next game. As our hearts fill with patriotic pride and our voices rise in that final crescendo about the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave – let’s see if we’re free enough and brave enough to risk seeing the things about our great country that challenge us.

That might make us uncomfortable.

That might rattle us in a different way than the jets flying overhead.

Larson can be heard on “The Larson Page” weekdays at noon on ESPN Radio Charlotte (730 AM) and