How “Take a Knee” Insults Catholic Americans

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As civil relations between Americans of different races (and Americans in general) deteriorate, I often find myself reflecting on an incident that happened to me while I lived in Hartford, Connecticut.

Early one morning I pulled my car up to a stoplight. A man on the sidewalk began yelling. “Hey lady, I have a question.” Having received unwelcome sidewalk catcalls in the past, I didn’t care to know what the man’s question was. I ignored him.

That’s when things got crazy. He came right up to my window and berated me through the glass. I was a racist, he shouted.

Until then I had not felt particularly safe, even inside my car, but being impugned made me foolishly bold. I’m not proud to admit I cracked the window to tell him off before hitting the gas.

He happened to be a black man, but his race was not the reason I felt aggrieved.

This seems as good an analogy as any for the state of our country the day after some of the nation’s leading footballers “took a knee” during the national anthem. Hardly anyone is thinking clearly and everybody hurts.

One can object to much of President Trump’s profanity-laced speech calling for NFL teams to fire players who won’t stand, and still grasp why his comments resonated with many Americans. (National Review’s Rich Lowry nailed it.)

Colin Kaepernick, the player who inspired the “take a knee” movement, isn’t stupid. The young man is intellectually consistent. He speaks admiringly of Fidel Castro, and of Malcolm X, who only late in life turned away from a violent, racially divisive ideology. By choosing to target the anthem, Kaepernick struck at the heart.

When millions of Americans turned their TV’s on yesterday, the only symbolic gesture many of them saw was a giant middle finger toward them, their dead loved ones, their brothers and cousins overseas, everything they are and value.

It was Jeremiah Wright damning America and blaming the victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks all over again.

It was the Trinity College professor who shared a vicious (and of course anonymous) screed called “Let Them F***ing Die” – “them” including people like Rep. Steve Scalise.

It was the heartless mockery, in explicitly racial terms, of anyone who was frightened like a normal human being in the face of such rage and hatred.

It was the voice of every white liberal they’ve known who returned from a two-week jaunt in Europe with nothing positive to say about his homeland.

Last year I tried to warn one former classmate, who was carping on Facebook about how much America sucks, that even people who don’t spend their days chanting “USA, USA, rah, rah, rah” tire of being constantly run down – and that come November, a statistically significant number of them might express their cumulative weariness at the ballot box.

Fantasies about speaking truth to power ring hollow coming from sports stars. This country has given Colin Kaepernick an adoptive family, an education, and material prosperity that far exceeds what most of us will see in our lifetimes.

Many Americans perceive him and his fellow players as men who have fully achieved the American dream, only to turn and punch down at those of us with a lesser share of it. No nuanced explanation negates the sting of it.

In America, there are vastly more decent people alienated by Kaepernick and his fellow players attacking the anthem than there are bigots who don’t mind seeing unarmed black men get killed. These decent folks feel attacked, and they are responding accordingly.

Those students at my high school who normally were too cool to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance stood at attention the morning of September 12, 2001.

One “#NeverTrump” pundit dismisses this visceral reaction as “fake patriotism.” I disagree. I think it’s the same galvanization a lukewarm Christian feels with the sword of martyrdom at his throat: time to commit, because the faith actually, really matters.

The rub is that all this ill will has not saved a single life, black or otherwise—a point brought home dramatically by concurrent news of Chicago’s 500th homicide of the year and a fatal shooting at a Tennessee church (I sincerely hope everyone wasn’t too busy protesting to notice).

One man did stand out, literally, for his simple courage yesterday. That man is Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who alone among his teammates stood for the anthem. Not surprisingly, he’s a three-time veteran of Afghanistan – and a Catholic.

Catholics as a group could find legitimate reasons to fall prey to anti-American sentiment. The Catholic was persona non grata in most of the original colonies. We have been targets of mob violence. Convents were burned. It was a battle to be allowed to have our own schools.

The one nominally Catholic president in more than 200 years obsequiously agreed to the exile of faith from the public square. Nowadays, sitting U.S. Senators unapologetically and unconstitutionally grill Catholic nominees for the judiciary on their religious beliefs.

In spite of this, I’m not angry at America, and neither are most Catholics I know. Blindness to our country’s flaws is one kind of malady; blindness to its unique merits is another. I am hard pressed to name many places in the world where the biracial child of an unwed mother and an absent father could grow up to be an educated multimillionaire.

I firmly believe America is more than shootings and Klan rallies and identity politics. Perhaps it even bears some resemblance to the Church, which has always been greater than the sum of the wretched sinners in the pews who place their hope in it.

I am truly sorry to see more players double down on this ill-conceived protest. I also want justice for all innocent victims of violence. But, like Villanueva, I’ll stand for the anthem, and do my kneeling in front of the tabernacle to pray for my country.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of CatholicVote.org

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About Author

mm

Nicole Stacy is a cradle Catholic with the uncommon distinction of having been both a conservative activist and a professional classical musician. Her adventures have taken her from West Virginia to Connecticut to Washington D.C., where she now resides. Her Myers-Briggs type is INTP, and her blood type is espresso. Follow Nicole on Twitter @Nicole_in_DC.

17 Comments

  1. Tanya Slaughter on

    This offends me in my bones.

    How is wanting your country to live up to the promises of “liberty and justice for all” unpatriotic? What did the soldiers die for if not freedom to redress grievances?

    How are we to react when unarmed men are shot in the back in broad daylight on camera and the killers have gone free?

    What form of protest would satisfy?

    Why isn’t the entire country in the streets demanding justice?

    Among these “good Christian patriots” where is the call to accompany the suffering and weep for with those who mourn? Where is the “to those whom much is given, much is required?”

    • mm
      Stephen Herreid on

      Being “offended to your bones” hardly stands out in today’s discourse, which is predominated by infantile demands for emotional succor.

      I believe this article brought reason and moral clarity to that turmoil.

      • Robin Tatom Johnston on

        Stephen, do you have any reply at all to the questions Tanya asked?
        When people riot in the streets after the murder of an innocent man, they are told they are being inappropriate. When they wear T shirts to public outings to protest it, they are told they are being inappropriate. When they take a knee to protest it (rather than remaining seated, a distinction quite purposefully intended to show respect for veterans) they are told they are being inappropriate. Even speaking to the VP at a theater gathering is considered “inappropriate”. Maybe, just maybe, we should address the PROBLEM they are speaking about, rather than the WAY they are bringing it to attention.

    • Tanya

      I don’t think anyone (anyone rational, that is) believes that peaceful expression of their views is unpatriotic.

      Many people believe that these athletes have co-opted someone else’s platform to make personal statements. “Grandstanding” is the word I think of.

      Certainly, these acts have now taken the form of a type of protest against the President-in particular, his words over the weekend.

      “How are we to react when unarmed men are shot in the back in broad daylight on camera and the killers have gone free? ” This could apply to inner city violence, which is an actual endemic social plague in America that these players have yet to regard of sufficient import to address by kneeling (or any other act as far as I know).

    • Yes, Tanya. And it’s worse that it comes from a “Catholic” website because we should be espousing solidarity with the protesters. Not just, “shut up and play.”

  2. Robin Tatom Johnston on

    “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

    MLK, Jr. Letter from a Birmingham Jail

  3. You do Villeneuva a disservice to co-opt him as a symbol against his teammates. And he’s basically said as much. You’re using a human being and ignoring his actual words.

    As Catholics, we should know better than most that principle MUST trump patriotism, or patriotism becomes idolatry.

    • mm
      Stephen Herreid on

      Kate,
      Nicole wrote this piece before Villenueva backtracked. She didn’t “ignore” his words (which she hadn’t heard), but responded gratefully to his decision to stand for the anthem.
      Second, I think Nicole made a compelling argument. Your comment regarding principle versus patriotism is a fine platitude, but it doesn’t do the courtesy of addressing any aspect of the column.
      Best,
      Stephen Herreid

  4. This is just a horrible take, but it’s on brand for this website. You have to delegitimize the protests because it stands for everything CV and the extreme right believe. If you agree with the protests, then you agree there is systemic racism in America. If there is systemic racism in America, then not all people are treated fairly. If not all people are treated fairly, we don’t all have an equal shot. If we don’t all have an equal shot, something should be done about that.

    That thinking cuts against the entire ideology of today’s right wing. There is a lot at stake here for you, I get it. And Stephen, you can drop down like a knight in shinning armor to shoot down all the legitimate critiques of this post. That doesn’t make this any less worse. Kap and the other black players have been given a lot of blessings by America. They should just shut up and play, right? White condescension to the grievances of minorities is not new. Lack of Catholic solidarity for our brothers and sisters of color is new, and it is disgusting. At one point in history Catholics were the aggrieved minority, and we still stand strong for those that are oppressed.

    • mm
      Stephen Herreid on

      Hi Sean,
      I’ve reviewed your comments here at CV. I find it strange that you consistently read our work and comment on it, given that you just as consistently disapprove of it.
      Most importantly, in several past comments you have baselessly accused writers of racism and other gravely evil motives, and recommended that your fellow readers stop reading CV–even going so far as to direct them to other sites.
      This is not a constructive use of your time or our combox.
      Goodbye,
      Stephen

    • Caleb Matthew C. Williams on

      One kneels before God, the King of Kings. In some countries, people may bow, curtsy or “kneel” to show deference and loyalty to the ruler/ monarch, but in America we have always stood out of respect for our flag, our anthem, and our fallen. In secular America, the flag is held in the highest regard, and that is the reason that those who have served this country and given their very life for her, are returned to her shores draped in the sacred cloth of America.

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