With his national anthem protest Saturday night, A’s rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell did more than he may realize.
While becoming the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem — following the lead of Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who’ve protested what they see as racial inequality — Maxwell also shattered the ridiculous narrative of the America-hating, ungrateful, disrespectful anthem protester.
A day after President Donald Trump said team owners should fire “son of a b—” anthem protesters, Maxwell, the son of an Army officer and who was born on a military base, took a knee anyway and showed unequivocally that one can be both patriotic and perturbed, both grateful and grieved.
Notice his posture: He’s kneeling, his hat over his heart, his eyes on the flag. That’s not the posture of a man who hates his country. It’s the posture of man who loves his country, but thinks it could be better.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) September 24, 2017
In other words, Maxwell, like many other anthem protesters, understands that the flag, among other things, represents the ability to petition for a better nation. His actions, both literal and symbolic, constitute a full merging of national pride and the First Amendment, both of which Maxwell no doubt appreciates as much as anyone.
"The point of my kneeling is not to disrespect our military, it's not to disrespect our Constitution, it's not to disrespect this country," he said after the game. "My hand over my heart symbolizes the fact that I am and I'll forever be an American citizen, and I'm more than grateful to be here. But my kneeling is what is getting the attention because I'm kneeling for the people that don't have a voice."
That echoes what Maxwell's agent said in the moments after Saturday's protest.
“Bruce's father is a proud military lifer. Anyone who knows Bruce or his parents is well aware that the Maxwells’ love and appreciation for our country is indisputable,” agent Matt Sosnick told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Bruce has made it clear that he is taking a stand about what he perceives as racial injustices in this country, and his personal disappointment with President Trump's response to a number of professional athletes' totally peaceful, non-violent protests.”
Maxwell was born on a military base in Germany, where his father was stationed. He also reportedly took pride in wearing MLB’s patriotic uniforms on July 4. He understands and appreciates the service and sacrifice of America’s military personnel. So let’s do away once and for all with the silly assertion that those who protest during the anthem are “disrespecting” the military or the flag.
Maxwell understands that these men and women served and died to protect the freedom to peacefully protest. To suggest that he just doesn’t get it would seem ludicrous.
It’s equally ludicrous to suggest that Maxwell is ungrateful for his freedoms or his success in baseball. I’ve not asked Maxwell or other anthem protesters, but I’m pretty sure they’re grateful that they have the freedom to protest the country or the government without the real threat of imprisonment or death, like in Russia, North Korea, China and elsewhere.
Earlier Saturday, Maxwell wrote profanity-laced comments on Instagram about Trump’s recent comments, so perhaps his protest Saturday night was more about defying an unpopular president than anything else. But regardless of his reason, Maxwell had his say in a perfectly American way, just as every other anthem protester. To question his patriotism, or his love of country, is to ignore reality in favor of political talking points.
The country was founded on dissent. If Maxwell or anyone else doesn’t like something — anything — about the country, why should they be mandated to keep it to themselves? Forced patriotism is not freedom.
Let’s not act as though there’s one universal American experience. That’s not a new thought, but the ongoing reaction to anthem protests shows it’s still something in need of vigorous discussion.
Maxwell’s protest Saturday could help shift the debate.