Bestselling author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell told Business Insider on Tuesday that NFL players’ decisions to kneel during the national anthem are inherently respectful of the United States.
The acts do not disrespect the American flag, as some critics, including President Donald Trump, have claimed, Gladwell said.
“The whole thing is baffling to me,” Gladwell, host of the podcast “Revisionist History,” said. “They’re being profoundly respectful as a reflection of their own feelings. They’re not chewing gum and gazing off into the sunset and texting.”
Roughly a year ago, quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem before games in protest of police brutality toward black Americans. The act has gained considerable momentum around the league in recent weeks, mostly in response to Trump’s statements on the protests.
“Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected!” Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
Gladwell countered that kneeling in protest is a direct manifestation of the anthem’s message of freedom. The athletes are merely using it “for another purpose,” he said.
“We have these ritualized responses to these patriotic totems for different reasons,” he said. “All of us have a different emotional response when we listen to it. An immigrant has a different response when we listen to the national anthem than someone who grew up in Alabama and heard it at football games from the age of two.”
The important factor, Gladwell contended, is that the anthem was still the focus.
“As long as we place the anthem at the center of our ritualized response,” he said, “we’re respecting the anthem.”
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