Column: ECU officials miss point on national anthem protest

For well over a month now, athletes from the NFL to the WNBA to our colleges and high schools have taken a knee during The Star-Spangled Banner and our nation has not crumbled.

Actually, you could make the case that it has never looked better.

With the exception of a vocal minority on social media and radio talk shows, the rest of us have noted the development, acknowledged the lovely existence of the First Amendment and basically moved along. Some have joined in. Others have shaken their heads. We might like the protests or despise them, but a vast majority of us have defended them, or at least accepted them.

The NFL deserves significant praise for its role in this process. I know it’s not fashionable to commend the NFL on any topic, but the league set the right tone on this issue from the get-go.

“Players have a platform, and it’s his right to do that,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in early September of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who started this silent protest by first sitting, then taking a knee during the national anthem.

“We encourage them to be respectful and it’s important for them to do that,” Goodell told the NFL Network. “I think it’s important if they see things they want to change in society, and clearly we have things that can get better in society, and we should get better. But we have to choose respectful ways of doing that so that we can achieve the outcomes we ultimately want and do it with the values and ideals that make our country great.”

Not everyone in a position of leadership in sports got this memo.

Last Saturday at East Carolina University, 19 band members took a knee during the national anthem. Some of them continued to play their instruments. Some did not. When the band returned for halftime, it was booed by some in the crowd.

On Monday, Jeff Compher, the school’s athletic director, said he was “confident that there will be a positive resolution for future games,” clearly indicating that meant no more kneeling.

He wasn’t alone. The school’s director of athletic bands, the director of the School of Music and the dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication sent out an email that would have been best left unsent.

"We regret the actions taken by 19 members of the East Carolina University Marching Pirates on game day October 1st felt hurtful to many in our Pirate family and disrespectful to our country. We understand and respect this is an issue where emotions are strong. …

“College is about learning, and it is our expectation that the members of the Marching Pirates will learn from this experience and fulfill their responsibilities. While we affirm the right of all our students to express their opinions, protests of this nature by the Marching Pirates will not be tolerated moving forward. It is our hope that together we can move past these events and that the Marching Pirates will be part of the healing process, working as one Pirate Nation."

Apparently all of us in U.S. Nation have a few more freedoms than they do in Pirate Nation.

Speaking of rights, an ECU professor named Tracy Tuten grew so angry about the kneeling band members that she announced the following:

“Since the band members can act on the First Amendment without regard to university rules, I too want to act on my Second Amendment rights to bear arms.”

Anyone for the Third Amendment? Or the Fourth?

This naturally caught the attention of local law enforcement, who contacted Tuten to tell her that openly carrying a firearm on the ECU campus would be a violation of North Carolina law. The campus police say Tuten has been informed of this development and has reconsidered.

“College is about learning,” the ECU statement says. It’s true. And not just for the students.

Copyright 2016 WCNC


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