Derek Gentile: The flag represents your right to assail those who kneel

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GREAT BARRINGTON — Years ago, I was at Wahconah Park, waiting for a baseball game to start. I think it was a Berkshire Brewers game, because there were only about 33 people in the grandstand. OK, maybe 80 or so. But not many.

Anyway, there was a guy, way up in the corner of the first base side of the grandstand, and when the national anthem was played, he didn't stand. He just sat there. Nobody said anything. I'm not sure a lot of people noticed. The only reason I did was because he had a dungaree jacket on, and on the back of it, an upside-down image of the American flag was drawn on.

My passing thought was, "This guy is a weirdo, but he doesn't look like he's going to hurt anybody. Plus, I'll bet if somebody hits a foul ball near him, he won't go after it. So that's a plus."

I was a kid. That's how kids think.

When former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the playing of the anthem last year, I had similar thoughts. And when I heard his reasoning, I had no problem with it.

Kaepernick was kneeling to protest racial injustice. I predicted on a couple of Facebook posts that his intent would be subverted by a certain faction of Americans, and I was correct.

Now, kneeling during the national anthem is not a statement — a peaceful statement, by the way — against racial injustice. It is an affront to the American flag, veterans and the American way of life. The man is now considered a traitor, and those who support him are equally culpable.

Obviously, that's not true. But a number of people choose to believe that. Well, that's their right. If I respect the former quarterback of the 49ers' opinion, I have to respect theirs.

But it seems odd to me that a peaceful protest has drawn such ire. I get that there are people in the world, people in my world, who are offended by any affront to the flag and, somehow, by extension, to veterans. Again, Kaepernick has explained that such is not the case.

And unlike previous protesters, he is kneeling before the flag. Former Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the Olympic podium in 1968. No ambiguity there.

Kneeling, to me, is considered a gesture of subservience, not disrespect, isn't it?

But so be it. We live in a world where many people demand black and white issues. Nuance is usually ignored.

In my opinion, what makes this country great is not the flag, or a song, but the United States Constitution. What makes us viable as a society are laws like the First Amendment. There are people who may disagree. But then, if we didn't have the First Amendment, you wouldn't be able to tell me. And you know you want to.

Reach Derek Gentile at 413-854-8162 or by email at derek.gentile11@gmail.com.

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