National Anthem Wars: First-Responders Strike Back

About a year ago in the National Women’s Soccer League, the owner of the Washington Spirit made national news for his work to thwart a Colin Kaepernick-inspired national anthem protest by an opposing player. When owner Bill Lynch learned that Megan Rapinoe, the star of his team’s next opponent, was taking a knee for the national anthem to protest her mistreatment as a “gay person,” Lynch decided to preempt her self-glorifying antics:

In light of Seattle Reign and U.S. Women’s National Team member Megan Rapinoe’s public declaration that she intended to “take a knee” during the United States’ National Anthem tonight, we decided to play the anthem in our stadium ahead of schedule rather than subject our fans and friends to the disrespect we feel such an act would represent.

Sure, Rapinoe has a right to sit. And Lynch has a right to remove her opportunity.

I was reminded of Lynch’s “counter-protest” when news recently broke about law enforcement officials and first responders in Cleveland refusing to participate in the national anthem ceremonies of the city’s notoriously awful NFL team. It all went down after 12 Cleveland Browns refused to stand for the national anthem during a preseason game:

Some police officers and paramedics are doing something about it. The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association and ILA Local 1975, representing the city’s dispatchers, EMTs and paramedics, said the Browns came to them weeks ago, and the team wanted city safety forces to hold the flag on the field for the opening game.  EMS union president Daniel Nemeth said it sounded great until a group of Browns players took a knee during the anthem.


“This hit home with me. I am a veteran, an 8-year veteran with the U.S. Marine Corps. So, to disrespect the flag by taking a knee is not something I was going to be a part of,” Nemeth said.

The police and EMS unions are sitting out to protest the protest. Right now the Browns have said that they will replace the first responders with members of the military. And while they will certainly be able to find enough people to hold the flag for their game, the public relations disaster brought on by the anthem-protesting players could be immense.

Though the NFL and left-wing media played down the impact of players disrespecting the national anthem in their political statements last year, it is now clear that those protests turned off a lot of fans who responded by turning off their TVs and not buying tickets.

So at some point it might be wise for league officials, team owners, and media to finally recognize that this whole “rights” thing is a two-way street. Of course any privileged NFL player can kneel for the anthem if their boss allows it. But the naïve idea that such an act will be immune to any consequences is no longer tenable.

And the consequences may be more than just lost revenue; it’s clear they may include lost prestige, respect, relationship, and partnership with fans, law enforcement, military, and many of our most honorable public servants.

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Peter Heck

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