Freedom to protest flag does not justify message

William H. McRaven

Tuesday’s column by Ms. Emma Berdanier, “McRaven shouldn’t police students’ actions,” completely misrepresented my letter to UT presidents and athletic directors. Ms. Berdanier called me the “most recent opponent to the [Colin Kaepernick] protest,” implying that I am somehow against the exercise of freedom of speech. In fact, my letter made it very clear that when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of expression “nothing is more important to this democracy. Nothing!” 

I support Colin Kaepernick exercising his First Amendment rights. I spent 37 years serving this country so he could do just that. 

However, I took great exception to what Mr. Kaepernick said in his protest, not his act of protest. He declared that the “flag represents oppression of blacks and other people of color.” This suggests that all of us who served this flag are part of that oppression. Try as he may, he cannot separate his disrespect for the flag from the people who proudly fly it. For the past 240 years, men and women of all colors have carried the American flag. Not because America is perfect, not because there aren’t injustices, but because we understand that the flag represents everything we worked for, everything we fought for and everything we hope to be. 

Many writers and activists have tried to make Kaepernick’s sitting during the anthem about his First Amendment rights. My letter was never about the First Amendment.  My letter was about respect for the flag. I can believe in the principle of free speech, without supporting the message. 

If, however, Kaepernick’s narrative wins out and all those that feel oppressed sit in protest, then where will it end? Will the Native Americans sit? How about the Japanese-Americans? Mexican-Americans? Women? Gays? What flag will we fly as a nation to bring us together? 

The flag is the one thing all Americans have in common. It should bring us together, not divide us. 

McRaven is the UT System Chancellor.