From an NYT article about the NFL guy who is refusing to stand for the playing of the national anthem:
Liu and his co-author, the entrepreneur and activist Nick Hanauer, highlight a quotation from Carl Schurz, a Union Civil War general and senator from Missouri, who in 1872 made the distinction between a popular line of patriotic thinking — that essentially, what the United States is doing is always right — and what he believed to be a more appropriate philosophy.
“The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, ‘My country, right or wrong,’” Schurz said on the Senate floor before adding his own corollary. “My country, right or wrong,” he said. “If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
Is sitting for the national anthem, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees said in his criticism of Kaepernick’s actions, “being disrespectful to the American flag”? Is it, as Brees continued, “an oxymoron” that Kaepernick is sitting down because it is the anthem, and the flag, that give him the right to speak in the first place?
Or is it the reverse: that the contradiction comes from those who trumpet the freedoms the flag represents but then criticize someone who exercises those freedoms? Is Kaepernick simply doing his duty, as Schurz said, by trying to set right that which he sees in his country as having gone awry?
Look—I get that the Times feels it has to preserve the notion that journalists are impartial, that they just present the facts and do not take sides in the debate. However, the notion that "it is the anthem, and the flag, that give him the right to speak in the first place" is just obviously, laughably wrong.
The flag is a piece of cloth, and the anthem is a song. They are symbols, true, but they don't actually do anything themselves. People's insistence that they be publicly venerated misses the entire point.
The whole article is worth a read, if for no other reason than its too-brief exploration of the weird way sports and patriotism have gotten tangled up in the United States.