I slipped my hat from my head and raised my right hand to my heart. The other fans around me did the same. It was late November 2017—Seahawks versus the Atlanta Falcons—and we crowded CenturyLink’s Fan Deck minutes before kickoff. As a retired Navy officer sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” I stuck my head between two rotund guys in jerseys for a closer look. I wanted to know. Were the Seahawks standing or kneeling?
It’s where all football conversations went last fall, ever since our president trained his 140-character insult machine on athletes like former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who had—a full year earlier—knelt during the national anthem. Never mind Kaepernick’s stated purpose was to call attention to police mistreatment of his fellow Americans; in tweets and in speeches POTUS called it an attack on our flag, country, and military. Kaepernick hasn’t had a gig since.
This past season members of the Seahawks, led by defensive lineman Michael Bennett, followed that bold example and took to kneeling before games.
This one against the Falcons was on the Seahawks’ annual Salute to Service night, honoring the U.S. military. As the Navy officer belted Francis Scott Key’s most famous line (the vowels on home and brave lasting an eternity), a woman, maybe in her mid-50s, sidled up to me: “Did they kneel?”
“Not sure,” I said. “But I was trying to see.”
“It’s so despicable when they do that.”
I stared in her direction. Her expression went slack before she rallied, “Beautiful song though!”
She’d misapprehended the meaning of my hand on my heart. She misapprehended a lot. If I take her point correctly, she believes those of us standing, palm to bosom, are the real Americans. Anyone out on the field kneeling: USA-hating ingrates who should just accept their big NFL paychecks and shut the hell up.
But placing a paw on your chest during a song is the easiest of easy patriotic gestures. Kneeling in support of your fellow Americans at the cost of your livelihood is anything but. She stepped away before I said that, and honestly I don’t know I would’ve anyway. Not everyone’s as fearless as Michael Bennett. But I’d like to tell my fellow American on the Fan Deck something else. I didn’t know the answer then but I do now: During the anthem on that night honoring the troops, all Seahawks stood. And that’s okay, too.