Standing for the National Anthem had, until this week, lost meaning for most.
Struck up before a sporting match, the players are thinking about the coach's last words, the fans are thinking about the best time to make a break for a hot dog, and the referees are thinking about the impending coin-toss procedure. Sure, every once in a while there's a performance from someone like Lady Gaga that brings some wonder, but that is generally more about the performer than the song.
Colin Kaepernick has changed all of that. By sitting down while everyone else was standing, and answering questions about it a few hours later, he unwittingly brought meaning back to a song so many of us haven't thought deeply about since seventh-grade history class.
I have always loved America. It's far from perfect, but as I've traveled the world I've found it to be the closest to perfection I've encountered. Today I'm a married gay man who can say and do just about anything he wants with little consequence (that Kaepernick feels other Americans have a different experience was, ultimately, at the heart of his post-game argument). The Bill of Rights may be the most important words ever written that didn't include stories about God.
That Bill of Rights protects Kaepernick’s pre-game choices, too.
As an "oppressed" gay man, I'll stand at attention and respect the United States of America every time the National Anthem is played. That’s my personal choice. Being gay, I've had to deal with harassment since fourth grade, some of which until recently was levied by the government.
It's that same culture and government Kaepernick has some pretty important, justifiable issues with. My experiences as a white gay man have unquestionably been different from those of any black person in America. With so many stories in the last few years about the continued struggles of black people in America, I empathize with him and anyone who has been stopped for driving while black, who has been turned away for employment or housing because of their race, or who sees "the system" as corrupt at its core. You have to be consciously committed to blindness to not see that racism persists in America.
So I'll respect my country, I'll respect the men and women who have sacrificed for my freedom, and I'll respect the flag and the National Anthem every time they pass in front of me.
I also fully respect Kaepernick for sitting. To stand for the National Anthem is to stand for his right to sit.
In reality, it's of no negative consequence to me that a soon-to-be-backup quarterback sat for the National Athem before a preseason game. When he does the same thing before this year's first regular-season game in a couple weeks, it will still be of no negative consequence to me. My deceased grandfather who fought in World War II won't care one bit, and my memory of him won't be desecrated.
It's frankly been strange to watch so many people get bent out of shape about Kaepernick's protest. Does it really affect the day-to-day life of anyone that some millionaire athlete sat for a couple minutes? The stock market still opened Monday, the sun still came up, the 49ers still lost and all most people seem to want to talk about is Beyoncé.
Kaepernick's move didn't affect -- let alone hurt -- the lives of anyone throwing tantrums about it, just like my personal silence when the two words "under God" come along in the Pledge of Allegiance. If Christians want to include that line when they recite the pledge, they are welcome to.
Instead of trying to drive him out of the league, maybe it would be more appropriate to think about how strongly he must feel to sit down surrounded by 60,000 people all standing.
To see people outside the 49ers organization viscerally upset about this has been odd to me. Burning his jersey? Really? That some fans burned his jersey a couple years ago because he wasn't playing well should speak volumes about this foolish crowd.
Yet consider this. In France it's illegal to burn the country's flag or "publicly insult" La Marseillaise. In Portugal you can be sent to prison for two years for insulting the National Anthem. Heck, in Mexico it's illegal to write a poem desecrating the flag, and the observation of the National Anthem is protected by law against insult.
I choose to stand for the National Anthem to celebrate the fact that we live in a country where we can freely express how we feel, even if it "insults" our nation's symbols. That's pretty cool.
So, Colin Kaepernick, if you want to sit for the National Anthem, go right ahead. I fully support you and your message.
For my message, I'll be standing at attention on the sideline this week at a high school football game near you, reflecting on my love of country and my love of the song and flag that represent it. Thank you for reminding me that those two minutes before a sporting match are my opportunity to share in a communal pause at the beauty of our nation.
This piece has been edited to remove a claim in the media that this was the first time he had done this. Apparently it was not. We regret the error.