unAmerican: The Day I Was Forced To Face The American Flag

Long Story Short

I couldn’t help but relive an interesting memory of mine, one of absolute horror now that I look back at it, say, should it happen to my children. Now, for context, you must understand that this incident took place after a high school football game between Lely High School’s Trojans, my team, and Palmetto Ridge High Schoo’s football team, whatever their mascot is, a beaver or whatever. Their school was so far from civilization I don’t care to spend brainpower remembering their name.

Either way, my mom was in the stands, she snapped a picture of me in my frail 130 lbs frame. I was strong enough to lift a bag of rice, maybe two, and fast enough to outrun the entire team. I was a sprinter, you see, not an American Footballer but participating in team sports was a big deal for me. 

But hopes were high for this game even though our record that year was shot because our team had all the talent in the world succeed but no coordination from the coaching staff to direct us toward a win. From bull-like rushers to acrobatic defensemen, or, defense-teenagers we had all the potential necessary for a successful season but very few wins so far. 

You can imagine our frustration once the game was over and yes, again, we had lost.

We were dominated by a second-tier team that had no recognizable players. Their linemen weren’t as big as ours, their runners could not run as quickly as ours could. Their defense was mediocre, at best, and they lived in the middle of freaking nowhere. 

Nowhere, people. 

And still, they beat us fair and square. Well, now looking at the situation they did. 

But we were disappointed. Cripplied by infighting, miscoordination, troubles on the field, and others who had troubles off the field, we just could not make it to the end of a game with a winning score.

The game is over, our teams lined up against each other and we shook hands, a ceremony that was and somewhat si still practiced in the professional sphere of the game today. So we grab our gear and head for the buses, where we continue to load our gear, pick fights with one another, shift blame, curse, sweat because it’s Florida and this school is like, in the everglades, maybe, maybe not. It sure felt like it. It was hot out.

And as is a ceremony, strangely so, before every game, as ours had finished and another one was soon to start, the Star-Spangled Banner began to play from the speaker system on the field. 

Almost mechanic like, our football players stopped fighting, cursing, screaming, sulking, chasing the opposing team’s cheerleaders to face the flag. 

We were well over two hundred meters from the field at this point, standing beside the bus and only moments away from loading up the last knee pad, girdle, helmet, and backpack, and everyone, I mean, everyone just stopped. 

The notion of loss, of troubles, of anger, or whatever everyone was feeling was put on pause because the national anthem had consumed our airwaves and thrust their seemingly important misgivings of the day out the window. 

It was mesmerizing, really, it was like a hypnotic cloud drove everyone to their feet, at attention, to face the flag, which, again, was hundreds of feet away.

But I was the only one who hadn’t stopped loading their gear.

Now, I want you to understand that I am not a rebel. In fact, I am highly in favor of regulations, rules, patterns, systems, and matrix structures that serve to benefit society. I’m a law-abiding citizen even if “citizen” isn’t legally registered by my name. 

I was not out to scribble my manifesto on the side of the bus with the blood of my fellow American footballers. I was not an anarchist, and am not one today. Nor am I a communist bent on bringing the “great American dream” down to its knees. No. None of that. Just an immigrant child who assimilated and learned the language of the land, adapted to the culture, appreciated the people, and wanted nothing more, on this particular day, than to make his mother proud by winning a football game. When that failed I just wanted to go home.

The last thing on my mind was facing a flag. 

Anyway, as I ignored the first and second call to stop what I was doing, which was loading the bus with gear, it became evident that I was the only person who was still shuffling about whereas the entire community that lived within ear’s reach of that song stood still and in awe of this ceremonious moment. 

I believe other players also called for me to stop what I was doing to face the flag because the intro was soon to conclude and the singing was about to commence but I ignored, again, because my only focus was on how to help this miserable team win a damned football game and also make it back home already.

By now, one or two of the coaching staff noticed my terroristic tendencies, my criminal intent, my want of the destruction of the American ideal, and they too began to call, almost yell for me to stop what I was doing so that I could, like they were, stand erect, statue-like, to face the flag. 

I ignored. I was too angry to care. Blinded by my zeal for a win and later by bitterness from losing that stupid game.

Suddenly, a hand grabbed my shirt and lifted my ideally small frame up from the ground. I was being forced to face the American flag.

You can imagine how a bitter teenager would react to such an incident. 

The coach who sifted me off my feet in the not-too-romantic fashion was a six-foot giant who weighed no less than three hundred pounds. I knew it was him because he grabbed me with one arm, because, he only had one arm. Was it a birth deformity or an accident, I don’t know, but I know he only had one arm. The man was a giant who assisted our high school offensive and defensive linemen. He encouraged our defensive backs, of which I was one. He was an honorable man. His one arm did not cripple his ability to coach nor his ability to demonstrate to us on the field what had to be done to beat our opponents. He was agile, strong, knew his techniques, all of which many of my teammates forgot but I remembered. I remembered my training hence my rage when I thought my teammates did not and thus cost us yet another game.

So there I was, struggling under the unmeasurable force of a one-armed coach, facing a field that reminded me of defeat, through a season of loss, and a sweltering hot Friday afternoon, facing this flag.

The singing began and here I was, tears running down my face mixing with the sweat from exhaustion and heat, bitter, angry, and in the middle of the everglades. 

I couldn’t take it anymore. I just couldn’t.

“This is not my country!” I shouted. I sounded like King Leonidas from the movie 300 at the Battle of Thermopylae.

Now, remember, this is Florida. A red state. Even democrats and life-long blue liberals worship the ground they protest in Florida so for anyone to voice such a blasphemous line was worthy of a drone strike.

I shouted this egregious utterance so loud that the entire football team turned from their flag worship, if but for a moment as if they had stepped on to a spaceship that would fly them to Mars but were interrupted by an earthling who could not afford the same trip.

Mothers who had come to pick their children up post-game, the rich kids, of course, in their fancy vehicles had stopped as well, mid-loading their mini-vans, hand on their chest, flag dazed, to look my way in awe. 

No one could believe that one, someone would disrupt the national anthem, two, that someone would shout anything but the lyrics of the same song, or three, that someone would dare scream such a heinous statement in the middle of the Star-Spangled Banner! 

But here I was, restrained by a coach, forced to face a flag that I did not recognize as my own.

The last thing I recall of what the coach said to me in rebuttal was something along the lines of well, “you’ll stand and face the flag anyway.” 

That bus ride back to school was awkward. Some of my teammates came to my consolation. Others chided and mocked. The ones who mocked were white and lived in quite the affluent communities. Our school was positioned in such a place that the poor and less fortunate students lived in a community that surrounded it. Whilst the rich kids lived in Lely Resort (that’s a given) and Marco Island and we were all zoned to attend the same school. So we had funding that came in from the wealthier families but with that came sentiments of disgust toward the less fortunate, and yes, immigrants and minorities. Our integrated school, teams, and events were exceptionally helpful in mending this centuries-old rift but on that bus ride back to school, one could feel the tension rise again. 

Fifteen Years Later…

I can’t help but fret at how much importance is given to standing for the American flag. After Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem I realized I was not alone in my sentiment. Granted, what Colin stood, or rather, knelt for was of much greater importance and magnitude than my being a sore loser on that particular afternoon.

But what is interesting is how people, Americans specifically, behave when they think you have disrespected their flag? 

Now, mind you, I spent eighteen years of my short life on this earth in the United States of America. My understanding of pop-culture, music, dance, history, economics, military exploits, sorry, military action, presidential elections, and religious affiliation are all from an American’s perspective. It wasn’t until years after leaving public schooling that I ventured into other worldviews and systems head first to learn that the world does not rotate around the USA.

I have an unfaltering admiration for the US, its ideals, its constitution, its bill of rights, its governing bodies, its infrastructure, its cinema, its love of sports, war, and orange men. So weird. 

But what I love so dearly about this great nation is how one has so many freedoms, one of which, is to sit, kneel, lay down, sleep through or continuously shout through the national anthem. 

It is in the United States of America where one can critique their governing officials without fear of state-sponsored repercussion and execution. 

So I am in awe of how unAmerican certain Americans become when someone uses their God-given American rights to NOT stand and face the flag for thirty or so seconds. 

I attended schools where every day, every single day, without fail, we had to start our day with the Pledge of Allegiance. 

Now, mind you, this is from kindergarten all the way through high school graduation.

We pledge our allegiance, bugger picking, girl shoving, sandbox fighting, teacher annoying, bad-apple behaving, no idea of what the world is all about kids in kindergarten pledge their undying allegiance to a country. 

What the hell, people! 

Let Merriam-Website define the word allegiance for us.

1 a: the obligation of a feudal vassal to his liege lord

b (1): the fidelity owed by a subject or citizen to a sovereign or government

“I pledge allegiance to my country.”

(2): the obligation of an alien to the government under which the alien resides

2: devotion or loyalty to a person, group, or cause

allegiance to a political party

I’m thirty years old and I can guarantee you that I could never have understood this militaristic concept. And for it to be engrained into us, for well over a decade, from my first step into a school until the last step out I had to recite certain words, facing a flag that wasn’t mine, in a country that did not want me there, within a community that saw me as less, striving for a dream that did not come true, all for the sake of pledging my allegiance to this!

I now know that one can opt-out of pledging their allegiance to that flag. I now know that one can sit through the national anthem. I didn’t back then but I do now. 

Do I blame the coach for thinking that my actions were unpatriotic? No. Because he has lived in this system from birth. He grew up in it as well. Probably thinking that the flag, as many Americans do, is like a deity, an unknown, faceless deity we are to pay undying allegiance to and to fail to do that merits one the social revocation of their patriotism. 

Do I blame him for being physically abusive? Possibly. If someone were to lift my children off the ground and force them to do anything they did not want to do or could not consent to I would possibly kick at their knees. Gladly so. 

But the problem, and I can happily say this from the comfort of my Canadian soil, is that the US has an idolatry problem.

That’s it. 

I believe Americans have been taught to equate their patriotism with their nationalist religion.

What I had done that day after that football game was not an act of American liberty but an act against God himself. I wasn’t objecting to facing a flag but I was objecting to God’s people, God’s country. The flag was but a symbol that reflected the very mystical sphere of worship they found in a book but here they could pay homage to from Monday through Saturday and then come Sunday, they worshipped a book in church. 

I was a blasphemer. 

It is clear that is it accurate by how Americans treat anyone who disrespects the flag, thus disrespecting the constitution, the military, veterans, the confederates, I know, weird, and their land. 

We have the luxury and privilege of living in a society that allows for freedom of thought and expression, even when that expression is an exemption.  

Teach your children that they can, under the freedoms afforded them, think differently. It’s an American privilege to think differently. It is not unAmerican as some postulate to sit or kneel during the national anthem or to be exempt from pledging allegiance to the American flag and what it stands for. 

Stand for the flag. Sit for the flag. Kneel during the national anthem, sit, lay down, if you want. It’s your right to so. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise because that’s your constitutional right. 

Teach your children this because they’ll be met with the same request to pledge allegiance to something without properly understanding what exactly they’re binding their conscience to nor the gravity of their words.

Teach them that they will meet other children, from other countries who have a different or no understanding of what patriotism is and inform them that nationalism is bad and destructive.

To tarnish another nation just because “it isn’t as good” or “as clean” or “as strong” or “as great” as ours is devilish talk. Eliminate such disastrous and hateful talk from your house. 

I’ll teach my girls; one of them is an American citizen and the other two are Canadian citizens, I’ll teach them to love their country but not to love it above their love for mankind. That their flag, their banner, their patriotism is transcendentally above national borders. That they respect the laws of the land, understand their Charter or Constitution but not come to a point where they despise others who think differently simply because they’re not willing to face a flag or sing a song. 

I’ll teach mine to love their country but to love mankind more. 


Also, Palmetto Ridge High School? Middle of nowhere-land? Please, do not send your kids there. 

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