….. you don’t drag the American Flag through the snow and step on it!
While I am decent skier, or at least I was, the high-flying acrobatics of the snow boarders in the Winter Olympics are totally beyond my comprehension, not to mention my skill level. Last night my wife and I sat on the edges of our seats on the couch mentally willing Shaun White to complete his last snow board run through the half pipe in good form and with enough technical difficulty to claim his 3rd Olympic gold medal. He did not disappoint, smoothly performing a bewildering series of twists and flips in mid-air which I certainly cannot describe, much less remember their weird designations.
We then waited with him with both dread and anticipation to determine whether his performance had put him over the top. It did! He and his family went wild as one would expect. At one point someone handed him an American flag apparently for him to visibly display to the world-wide audience the country that he represents. Unfortunately, at one point seemingly oblivious to the symbol of our nation that he held in one hand, he walked around dragging the other end of the flag in the snow, at times stepping on it, signs of disrespect which caused me to cringe.
But before I get into that let me tell you where I am coming from. I am a true progressive – anyone who says otherwise does so out pure ignorance and deserves a thorough tongue lashing which I would be more than happy to administer. I also love my country and in my view, and those of many millions of Americans since this country’s founding, the American flag is living symbol of our country. And in my humble opinion anyone who believes that being a progressive and loving one’s country are incompatible concepts is a raging idiot, pure and simple.
From an early age I was taught to respect the American flag and the rituals and practices that apply to it. (I covered my views on this matter more thoroughly in another blog article entitled, “We No Longer Show Proper Respect the American Flag”) According to these practices we should never let the American flag touch the ground. If that happens, even by accident, the flag is considered desecrated and should be honorably destroyed by burning it.
But yes, I defend to the death your right to sit or kneel in protest doing the national anthem, but I would urge you to remember that the American flag is the enduring symbol of our country; it does not represent the politicians or party who happen to be in power or their policies. I will even defend your right to stomp on, burn, or otherwise deface the American flag, but I damn sure don’t have to like it.
According to the United States Flag Code – 4 U.S.C. (Yes, it is encapsulated into US law.) §8. Respect for flag: (b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise. (d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery…. (j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform… (k) The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning. (I find it ironic that those who wish to show absolute contempt for our country burn our flag, which is also the preferred manner of disposing of it.) It should be noted that penalties for failing to follow the flag code cannot be enforced due to Supreme Court ruling dealing with freedom of speech, but at least the law provides clear standards which we should all follow if we wish to show proper respect to the flag.
What I find appalling are the acts of those who dishonor the American flag out of ignorance or negligence while trying instead to display it with pride. High on this list are the American world-class athletes who are often handed American flags after big wins in international competitions, particularly at the Olympics. The first time I can personally remember this happening was after the triumphant ending of the 1980 Olympic Hockey game known as “the Miracle on Ice”. I am sure you are aware of this game where the US teams made up of amateurs defeated the team representing the USSR which was manned by professionals who were “amateurs” in name only.
The Soviet team had previously beaten five NFL teams and a team of NFL all-stars and they were heavily favored to with the gold medal. During the US victory celebration following the game, while one of the heroes of the game, US goalkeeper Jim Craig, skated around the ice rink in absolute ecstasy, someone handed him an American flag. Apparently not knowing what else to do with it, he draped it over his shoulders.
That’s not the worst thing I have ever seen an American athlete do with a flag after a big victory though wearing the flag like a cape is not very respectful. However, that scene evidently started a trend. Now it is common to see American athletes handed an American flag after emerging victorious in international competitions. Such a scene is usually awkward at best. Shaun’s episode was one of the worst I have seen recently, but he has since apologized saying that R at the time he was emotional and wasn’t paying any attention to the flag in hand and that he certainly meant no disrespect.
Even before that apology I had come to the same conclusion watching him on TV and seeing that he was overcome by emotion. Try considering the situation from his perspective; try to imagine yourself in his boots after winning that gold medal. You have just completed a hair-raising snow board run and just learned that everything you have worked for the last four years has come to fruition in what might be your last Olympics. Someone hands you an American flag to display proudly, but you are totally overcome with relief and happiness. The flag you happen to have in your hand is far from the first thing on your mind, and you are not paying the least bit of attention to what you are doing with it.
Which brings me to the main point I want to make. Let’s put a stop to the ‘tradition” of handing athletes American flags in these situations. Their emotions must be at an all-time high and numerous thoughts must be competing for their brains’ attention at the same time. In such circumstances too much can go wrong with their handling of the flag and if it does, the athlete will always be blamed. To save our athletes from embarrassment and to keep people like me from going bonkers, the sanctioning associations such as the United States Olympic Committee, US Track and Field, etc., should issue hard fast rules forbidding the distribution of large American flags to competitors after completing their events. Everyone viewing the scene knows what country they represent. The flag conveys an unnecessary message and can far too easily become controversial. At Olympics events there will be plenty of opportunities to display the flag for all the world to see during the playing of the national anthem.