Sport’s Post-9/11 Patriotism Seen as Unifier, and ‘Manipulation’
In this fraught political climate, many Republican politicians, including former President Donald J. Trump, have accused Kaepernick and other athletes who kneel during the anthem of disrespecting the military, even though Boyer recommended the gesture and Kaepernick has said repeatedly that that is not his intent.
Boyer, on a recent telephone call, said he understood that some people saw it as disrespectful. “But what I don’t understand,” he said, “what really frustrates me, is why people can’t have a different perspective on that, and still respect each other.”
He continued: “Everything seems so one way or the other, all or nothing, right now. That’s just not what that flag represents to me. I don’t think it represents that to a lot of people.”
The N.F.L. did not respond to requests for comment from Commissioner Roger Goodell about shows of patriotism in the sport.
Few athletes joined Kaepernick’s initial protest.
Bruce Maxwell, a catcher for the Oakland Athletics whose father served in the military, became the first Major League Baseball player to kneel during the anthem in 2017.
“I did it because it was what was right,” Maxwell said, adding, “I was standing up for myself. I was standing up for my family. I was standing up for the people who couldn’t be heard and/or haven’t been heard.”
By the summer of 2020, when waves of athletes protested after the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, kneeling was common in sports and almost universal in the N.B.A. and the W.N.B.A. In a whiplash reversal, athletes like the former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who called kneeling “disrespecting the flag,” received criticism for their support of the patriotic exhibitions.