Protests, even silent and peaceful ones, should neither be seen nor heard.
That was that resounding message this week from NFL owners, who collectively fanned the flames of an already contentious issue by decreeing any players who wish to continue protesting racial inequity may no longer do so on the field during the pregame rendition of the national anthem. Players hoping to raise awareness may do so in the locker room, away from the prying eyes of disapproving fans and nosy TV cameras.
Out of sight? Sure. Out of mind? Not by a longshot.
Against this national backdrop Boulder will host its annual Memorial Day extravaganza with the historic 40th running of the Bolder Boulder on Monday. Chances are among the thousands of participants will be messages of support for both sides of these divisive, anthem-type issues, with citizens running together in a sign of unity and a let-differences-be-bygones spirit growing all too rare in society.
The anthem issue has not yet reached Folsom Field or any other athletic venue at the University of Colorado. The Buffaloes remain in the locker room during the anthem at football games anyway, waiting to run behind Ralphie, and a 2017-18 school year spent observing basketball, soccer, volleyball, and lacrosse games didn't reveal any overt signs of protest.
Yet all it will take is one. One young man or woman with an unquenchable itch to make a point. One African-American student-athlete that experiences something unfortunate around town. At some point, it feels inevitable the NFL's problem will trickle down to a college campus somewhere. If it's CU, athletic director Rick George expects respect and understanding to prevail on both sides.
"We don't have a formal policy," George said. "We had a lot of discussions with different coaches last year when this started to take off. We encourage all of our attendees that come to the game, our student-athletes, to stand during the national anthem. But we acknowledge and respect everybody's individual rights.
"I'm sure there's been discussions with some of (the players') coaches, but again we hope and urge everybody to stand. But everybody has their individual rights. If they want to protest, we'd encourage them to do it peacefully."
Enough has been written about every angle of the national anthem controversy. From balancing the players' right to free speech to ownership's right to set workplace standards. From warping a protest about racial injustice into a perceived protest against the flag and military to questioning the rationalization for measuring one's level of patriotism by their reaction to a song before a sporting event.
We've heard it all. I decided to consult far more knowledgeable folks than myself.
There aren't a ton of former military personnel in my life's orbit, but I reached out to those I know for their two cents on the NFL anthem issue. One army vet questioned how she can still support her beloved Seattle Seahawks with the owners banishing those wishing to express their free speech rights to the locker room, lamenting how the anthem and flag no longer stand for what she swore to protect.
A former Air Force trauma surgeon, who often sent email journals to his friends back home detailing the horrific state of the bodies, both soldiers and civilians alike, he was tasked with patching back together in Afghanistan, believes the entire matter has been blown out of proportion, adding his belief that the flag and anthem stand for different things to different people.
And a neighbor, a battle-hardened veteran of the U.S. Marines, doesn't at all agree with the idea of kneeling for the anthem. Yet he also has helped carry caskets during funerals at Arlington National Cemetery while protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church gleefully chanted, "God loves dead soldiers." One can only imagine the toxic level of rage such hate and disrespect fuels. Yet he was consoled by his gunnery sergeant that the folks had a right to speak their minds, disgusting as it was. In that spirit, the players' peaceful protests haven't bothered him.
"I don't like it, but it's not Nazi (freakin') Germany," he said. "It's their right."
It hardly was scientific research, yet none of the handful of vets I chatted with questioned the NFL players' rights to quietly kneel. And here's the thing: The combat vet from the marines (also an avowed Donald Trump supporter) expressed many of the same views as the female army vet who leans far to the left. Defending those rights is why they served.
Last winter, I noticed the family member of a CU basketball player sitting during the anthem at one of the Buffs' road games. This person did so quietly, humbly. No other fan rushed to condemn this person, if anyone even noticed. Everyone paid their respects in their own way for two or three minutes of song and moved on.
To each their own. In a world going on a path where that sentiment is becoming increasingly less valued, the 40th Bolder Boulder arrives at a perfect time. Come on out on Memorial Day to celebrate freedom, regardless of what that word means to you.