FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016 file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, middle, kneels during the national anthem before the team's NFL preseason football game against the San Diego Chargers, in San Diego. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell disagrees with Kaepernick's choice to kneel during the national anthem, but recognizes the quarterback's right to protest.  (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

Star Spangled Backlash: The Surging Movement in Sports to Defend the National Anthem

By Ken Danieli | 4:01 am, October 1, 2016

It’s become a familiar story by now.

Pro athletes (and now the college and high school athletes who mimic them), exemplified by San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, are using the national anthem at sporting events to make statements of protest against what they believe to be fundamental flaws with America that get celebrated by parts of the media.

Some organizations, like the NFL, have taken a passive stance towards these demonstrations.  It seems that corporations fear taking a stand because of the perceived public relations ramifications of doing so in our increasingly politically correct culture.  There’s a world out there just waiting to be offended and risk-averse corporate executives and lawyers evidently fear a backlash if they align with American patriotism.

What has been less reported is the growing counter-trend among some brave athletes and individuals who take the symbolism of the national anthem and respect for our flag seriously. Turns out there are some sportsmen who respect our First Amendment and others’ right to protest but they think that the moments that bring us together, like the anthem, aren’t the appropriate times to raise objections.

Recently, Independent Journal Review noted wounded warrior teams from softball and volleyball teams manage to stand for the national anthem.

Then there was the touching moment when a 19-year-old former football player in South Carolina, who’s faced tremendous challenges,  stood for the first time in years  in respect for Old Glory.  Cincinnati’s WKRC reported that Wesley Baker, who lost a leg, suffered brain damage, and nearly lost his life,  when he was hit by an 18-wheeler three years ago, stood Friday night, with his hand over his heart during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner at his former team’s game.   Wesley and his family and former teammates hope that he’ll someday again be able to walk across the field.

In a public display of patriotic solidarity, the cowboys of Pro Bull Riders have voluntarily and publicly pledged to honor the flag, the anthem, and our uniformed heroes at every event.

The movement started with a cowboy bull fighter named Shorty Gorham who talked with the bull riders and bull fighters that he worked with to draft and sign a pledge saying that the bull riders and bull fighters would continue to honor and respect the national anthem.

Each of the riders and fighters chose to sign it. Not most of them—all of them.

Gorham told Heat Street: “I’ve been in this sport a long time. We’ve always presented the American flag in a special way and have sung our national anthem together.  It’s an important, sacred time for the fans and competitors to join together before every event– one that means a lot to me.

“In a lot of different places, I’m now seeing the national anthem being used to further an agenda.  Yes, social injustice exists in our country and we need to work together to overcome it.  But I’m disappointed seeing protest during the national anthem and I had a feeling everyone in the locker room feels the same way. I discussed this with the bull riders, and we’re all together in our love for this country, our freedoms, and the opportunities we’re afforded.  Even riders from other countries appreciate that.”

President Obama seems to agree, at least in part, with the sentiment expressed by the cowboys. According to Politico, he wants 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick to “think about the pain he’s causing military families the next time he takes a knee during the national anthem, though he added “both sides should keep open ears”.

Bull riding comes from the straight-shooting cowboy culture – you speak your mind and let the chips fall where they may.  The sport was founded 23 years ago by 20 independent cowboys who each invested $1,000 of their own money as they broke away from the larger rodeo tour to take a risk and start something new. Riders take great risks both physically and financially.  They compete for prize money and if they don’t win they don’t get paid.

It’s this courageous spirit that is resulting in this new generation of  cowboys, along with millions of patriotic followers, going against the trend of bowing to PC.  If you look at fan reaction, it’s paying off.  Less than 24 hours ago PBR announced the cowboys’ pledge on Facebook and it’s gone viral, reaching over 1 million fans, with over 25,000 reactions, comments, and shares so far. “Would not expect anything less from hard working cowboys and cowgirls”, said Alex Arnold.

Katelyn Wilcox commented, “I didn’t think I could have any more respect for this sport than I already did but this has really raised the bar for me.”  Bernard Davis noted, “From a Father who lost a son in Afghanistan I applaud your patriotism.” Edward Desjardin said,  “Boycotting the NFL…one of the things I loved [at the PBR event] was the respect shown by the riders for the anthem and invocation.”

We reported last week that the color guard was banned from the Charlotte Invitational Professional Bull Riders (PBR) competition for bearing arms, nearly causing the event to be canceled.

But while some parts of the media and social justice warriors may continue to cheer on disrespectful protests during the national anthem, at least there’s a sizable counter-movement building up that is sticking up for the silent majority.

Ken Danieli is on Twitter @wittier.