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Carter: Today not the day to protest national anthem

I respect Colin Kaepernick's right, under our Constitution, to not stand while the national anthem is played. Just not today.

For the record, I don't necessarily agree with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick or other athletes' recent decision to protest social injustice in America by refusing to stand during the playing of our national anthem, but I respect their right to do so under our Constitution.

Just not today.

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The NFL season officially kicked off Thursday night, but the first full slate of games is today. Today is also the 15th anniversary of the deadliest attack on American soil. Which also makes it the 15th anniversary of a historic time when our country felt truly united.

Once the initial shock of the events of 9/11 wore off, Americans responded in a patriotic way that truly warranted us being called a United States.

It's the same thing that happens when tragedy strikes locally. People put aside partisan politics and rhetoric, and come together for the greater good. It's a shame that it takes death and destruction to bring out the best in us.

Jennifer Peltz, of the Associated Press, recently wrote, "After Sept. 11, signs of newfound unity seemed to well up everywhere, from the homes where American flags appeared virtually overnight to the Capitol steps where lawmakers pushed aside party lines to sing 'God Bless America' together." In particular, it was hard to recall a time when those who put their lives on the line to serve the rest of us — police, firefighters and military personnel — were more celebrated or revered than in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

Today, things seem as divisive as ever in our country, particularly when it comes to the relationship between police and members of the minority communities — the reason behind Kaepernick's protests of the anthem, he has said. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said when asked after a preseason game last month.

Pride in our country is at a 16-year low, according to a Gallup poll that came out in July, with just 52 percent of U.S. adults surveyed saying they are "extremely proud" to be Americans. Patriotism spiked after 9/11, peaking at 70 percent in 2003.

America is far from perfect. I think that's something everyone can agree on regardless of political leanings or which issues you might consider personally important. There's much work to be done to improve civil rights, immigration, national security, policing, race relations, education, health care for our veterans and violent crime rates, just to name a few.

Still, the United States is the closest thing you're going to find to a utopia on this planet. When an athlete making millions of dollars refuses to stand for the national anthem in America — as is his or her right — we express our displeasure by complaining about it on talk radio or Facebook, sending a few nasty tweets to the player or maybe even burning a replica of that player's jersey in our own protest. Refuse to stand in Russia or India during the playing of either's national anthem, and see how that works out for you.

To Kaepernick's credit, he used his celebrity to draw a ton of attention to and rekindle a conversation about policing and race relations, for better or worse. And he's put some of his money where his mouth is. The quarterback pledged to donate $1 million to organizations working to fight inequality and improve relationships between law enforcement and surrounding communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. Earlier this week, 49ers owner Jed York promised to match that $1 million.

Respectfully, they are taking action and doing something about problems they perceive in our country. It's more than most of us can say we're achieving by simply following the tradition of standing for a song.

Good Americans should want to see our country improve to the point that every American should want to stand with pride during our national anthem, not because it is a societal norm to do so.

But personally, I wish Kaepernick had found another way to draw attention to these issues. Since Kaepernick's protesting gained attention, other athletes have followed his lead and it's expected that there will be more protests during NFL games today.

If athletes want to take a knee in the future during the anthem to protest injustices, I and many others might not like it, but I appreciate them exercising their rights as Americans to do so.

But not today.

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Today, we stand up for our anthem to honor the brave — police officers, firefighters, military and regular Joes — who made the ultimate sacrifice 15 years ago in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. We stand up to show we haven't forgotten. We stand up to show we are one.

Today, we stand up, together, to show we are a United States. The discourse can continue tomorrow. But not today.

Wayne Carter is the editor of the Carroll County Times. Reach him at wayne.carter@carrollcountytimes.com.

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