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Guest post: National anthem controversy more diverse than just a black and white issue

Keri Scaggs

By KERI SCAGGS, Contributing Writer

This past Saturday, the SEC found itself in the midst of another story involving athletes kneeling during the national anthem. While this was done expressly to counteract an event happening on the Ole Miss campus, it didn’t take long for it to be THE story.

There was a time I would’ve found this upsetting, feeling it was disrespectful. When the kneeling began, I found myself disturbed, thinking it to be a slap in the face of our nation. I grew up in a musical family in Boyd County, the daughter of a proud Marine (redundant, I know). A strong sense of patriotism was instilled in both me and my late sister. That has never left me, though the way I view it has changed dramatically.

Standing center court at Rupp Arena is pretty darn special, as anyone who bleeds blue knows. I got the privilege not once, but twice due to singing the national anthem.  I never took it lightly, whether performing for the Cats, NBA, NHL, Boyd County High School or the Little League.

A few months into the NFL furor, I came across an interview with Seattle Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin. He spoke of all the poor behavior he’d seen in the stands during the anthem. It was as if a movie projector was turned on in my mind, and it began to play all that I’d witnessed, too.

When you’ve sung “The Star Spangled Banner” for over 500,000 people, you’ve seen and heard a lot. Folks leaving their hats on, yelling, laughing, goofing off — being anything but quiet or solemn. Before Baldwin’s take, I hadn’t even considered that part of my experience.

I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-nineties, which was an eye-opener to say the least. Going from a town of 23,000 to the second largest city in the U.S. was a perspective changer. I grew up in an area that was over 95 percent Caucasian, moving to the only state where whites are in the minority.

But before that, I’d begun traveling to Nashville to scratch the music itch. I’d become friends with the late great Jackie Street, one of the best musicians in town. While his musical prowess was second to none, it was his heart that captured just about everyone he met. I learned more about loving people by seeing how he treated others, no matter how inconvenient it might be. It took awhile, but I realized I referred to him as “my black friend Jackie” yet knew he didn’t describe me as his “white friend Keri.” I was just his friend.

I’ll never forget the day I picked up the phone and said, “I’m pretty sure I’ve said some ignorant stuff that may have been hurtful. That was never my intent, and I am so sorry.”

 I’d never met a more kind or caring soul, and when he shared how the parents of the love of his life (who was white) forced them to break up in high school, my heart broke. As I later shared with my Dad, “You know, there are things we’ll never have to deal with simply because we are white.” He looked at me funny, but I got it. He’d never lived outside of Ashland, and for the bulk of my life I’d never thought that way, either.

This may seem like a long-winded way to get to the current issue regarding the anthem, but it’s not. Between Jackie, moving to LA, dating an African-American man for 4 years, I simply began to see life through a different lens. My fella and I had a lengthy discussion around the Ferguson, Missouri, unrest, mainly about how people don’t feel seen or heard.  Rioters are labeled thugs. Peaceful protestors taking a knee to shine a light on issues far removed from many of us are called the same.

I hear many say that there’s a better way — yet they never seem to know what that way is. What are people to do? That’s an answer that must come from within the community of those who’ve been disenfranchised, not those of us living on the sidelines.

I’m not apologizing for who I am, nor am I suggesting anyone else should, either.  I’m not saying folks who’ve lived in the Bluegrass their whole lives are narrow or uninformed. I’m crazy about My Old Kentucky Home, and the fine people who live there. More than anything, I’m trying to express that we don’t have to have the same life to show compassion or a willingness to learn.

When I sang The Star Spangled Banner, I sang for all of us in this great nation. Of course this included the women and men of our armed forces. They have fought — and are fighting — for us to have the right to protest and disagree. We were founded to be the shining city on a hill, where from many we are to become one. Seems most days we act as many from one, digging in our heels for our singular point of view.

More than ever, it’s time for us to be understanding, even when we don’t understand. We are a diverse and beautiful nation. Our history is woven with the hope that we would and could unite.

Agree to disagree when necessary. This ideal is not out of reach — regardless of the divisive images shoved in our faces. Be willing to look at the big picture surrounding the anthem (and our own hearts) to see it’s not totally black and white. It’s way more diverse than that, just like us.


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  1. Very well written article. Whether people agree or disagree with your point it is very thought provoking. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you. I really appreciate the kind words, and Larry offering the opportunity to share.

  2. This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you. I’m grateful to Larry for the chance to share.

  3. I hope and pray that UK players never kneel during the National Anthem.
    If they ever do, that will be the day I’m done as a fan and I think there are thousands of others who feel the same way about it.
    I love the Cats, but I love our flag and what it stands for much more.

  4. Great article and it does cause one to think. That said, remember this too. The flag represents all Americans, black and white. Both black and white who have shed red American blood to defend the freedoms we enjoy. It should never be just a black versus white issue. That is why we stand during the national anthem, too honor the fallen, and a great nation second to none.

    Kindness for others is an issue of the heart. We must all strive to show kindness toward all people and try to see things from their point of view, the writer is right about that. But I don’t think kneeling during the national anthem should ever be embraced as something right or noble just to advance a cause, or excuse bad behavior. What it shows is total disrespect too many who have given their all for the rights we enjoy in this land. It divides and alienates. Life is never fair for many of us, but we must find ways to love one another in spite of this. It begins in the hearts of all Americans. We can all do better every single day if we work at it.

    1. Larry, though it’s clear we see it differently, I really appreciate your thoughts and comments. Thanks for taking time to share.

  5. Thanks, Keri, for your thoughtful and well written article. I personally have no problem with black athletes kneeling during the singing of our national anthem because they are doing so to bring an important issue to the attention of all Americans. As Americans, they have every right to protest as they see fit. They are peacefully protesting the rascist treatment of blacks by many police in this country.

    Having just seen the movies Green Book and BlackkKlansman, I would encourage anyone who wants to understand how pervasive racism was, and still is, in our country to go see these two movies. We have a long way to go in terms of treating each other with love, respect, and as equals.

    1. When anyone kneels during the national anthem they trample over the blood of every American who has given their lives for the freedoms we enjoy. Racism is wrong, we can all agree, but kneeling when the national anthem is played shows disrespect for the brave and for our country. There are other ways to express your views. I agree with Hornet1 above. If UK players ever do that and the administration allows it, I’ll be through with supporting UK sports. That ignorant form of protest is exactly why I will never watch another NFL football game. Millionaire athletes biting the hand that provide a living most of us will never experience. As a former United States Marine, I served with both white and black who gave themselves in service, some I served with died on battlefields. When people don’t stand and support our flag then they don’t deserve our respect in any form IMO. I suggest they try living somewhere else if you hate this country that much. They may find out real quick how good it really is to live in this land of ours where freedom reigns . Is it perfect, no. Like I said, life is unfair for many of us, but America is still the greatest nation on the planet. Stand for the flag or find another country.

      1. Let me add that I also support our men in law enforcement to the hilt. They are not the problem. They protect all of us. Try living in this land today without effective law enforcement. Thank God for them. Are there some bad apples, yes. Those should be dealt with severely too. But many police officers and troopers are being gunned down on the streets and cities of America in the line of duty everyday now because we have become a society of lawlessness. Who speaks for them and their families? Racism is still around today, no doubt, but the race card is being played far to much in this day and time to justify bad behavior and all forms of anarchy.

    2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Linda. I really appreciate it!

  6. The beauty of this country is everyone has the right to protest or voice their opinion in a free and open manner. This however, does not include representing a school, business or organization. It is not right to force your opinion on others that may not agree with you!

    When you make that choice, you run the risk of losing your position with that organization. The organization will ultimately pay the price for your actions and that is not fair or right. It hurts not only the organization, but the fans too!

    For every action, there are consequences and you have the right to take on those consequences for yourself, but not others. Utilize your constitutional rights, but respect the right of other individuals and organizations. There is a proper place for actions and it is not right to infringe on the rights of others.

    Racial issues are being used today to stir up friction between sides. It is terrible that people would stoop that low. Race relations have improved greatly in my lifetime, but we will never be able to move on until ruthless individuals quit promoting it for their monetary advantage. We are all created in God’s image.

    Protest all you want at the proper time and place. This may have been the right time, but definitely not the right place. If you are an athlete or famous person, then call the media and they will cover your protest. Do not use others to promote your agenda, it is simply just not right.

  7. What I don’t understand why the school let the protesters on the school premise. There’s no room for this stuff to happen to begin with, I’m just glad the players stood up for what they did. Great article to read thank you.

  8. Ferguson, Missouri? Are you serious? Talk about a media event cooked up to cause division instead of fix it. There are plenty of times racism causes problems. That wasn’t one of them. That shooting was entirely justified.

    I don’t care who you are. If you disrespect the flag and the national anthem I will lose all respect for you. Anyone who defends that action also loses my respect. The imagined racism so many fight so hard to prove exists makes me sick. I have never been racist and I never will be. But I remember when the country was mired in racial issues. I was always on the right side in those days IMO. I stood against racism in every form.

    To compare today to what happened then is ludicrous. The only power those idiots protesting outside the Ole Miss game is to gain our attention. If not for those players kneeling I would not have even known about those idiots. In my entire life I have met ONE KKK member. Just one. I told him where to get off. They aren’t a factor in modern America unless you make them one.

    Pissing on the country because a few idiots are outside proving they are idiots does more to discredit you than it does them. You will never make everyone think like you do. You shouldn’t expect that to happen. You can only do better and making people hate you for what you have done is not making things better. And those people who took a knee will be remembered by me forever. Their school is just as hurt by this as it was the Jim Crow south days when blacks couldn’t even play against their basketball team. You don’t win my approval by disrespecting the country. You only point out how much you don’t understand that this country has done far, far more to end real racial problems than almost any other country. We changed because it was wrong. Now people want to make it a freaking industry and a political cause when there are ZERO real problems regarding race. Nothing comes close to what happened in the Jim Crow south and the racist north of the 1960s and before. I saw block busting in Columbus up close. It was ugly. So is this. No credit is given to the fact we stopped that stuff.

    I’m reminded of the words of Booker T. Washington who said;

    “There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Having learned that they are able to make a living out of their troubles, they have grown into the settled habit of advertising their wrongs-partly because they want sympathy and partly because it pays. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs.”

    Those people who took a knee are promoting themselves because they know it sells in certain circles. They can take a flying leap.

    1. @KingGhidora
      AMEN !!!
      I agree 100%.

  9. BTW my grandchild about to be born will be black. Ask the mother if I hate black people. My uncle married a black woman in 1970. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who said I disapproved. I would tell you about my own experiences but that’s private.

  10. I have never understood why people of color today take a knee against the flag that in principle was carried into great battles like Vicksburg, Chancellorsville, Antietam, Fredricksburg, Gettysburg, etc. to name a few. during the great rebellion from 1861 to 1865. A time in this nation’s history where good men died on fields covered in blood to free their ancestors from the grip of slavery. One would think they would forever honor that grand old flag. I agree with King, racism today in 2019 is vastly overestimated. It even prospers and enriches many who make a living playing the race card every time it is convenient to do so.

  11. King and Pup the main problem is our younger generation is not taught about our past history of how our nation was brought up . They just don’t teach the values about
    america like we was in school back in the days.

  12. The message about the sacrifices made in the Civil War should resonate with people today but it seems our nation gets tagged with the sins of slavery no matter if people died to end it. And yes many joined the fight because of slavery. And many fought to end Jim Crow also. I was one of them. My family took great risks helping integrate the school I went to. I guess that goes under the bus too. I don’t think those people who kneel do anything but make things worse. They don’t appreciate what has been done to make their lives better. Maybe they would have liked it more if the Nazis had won the war. Hitler had plans to invade the US. That would have meant real racism in the government. But people fought to keep that from happening. Their blood means something to me. So does the flag they fought under.

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