The Case of the Spitting Legionnaire

Yves here. A case study in propaganda. The “spitting on our veterans” meme as a remarkable case of complete inversion of the facts.

However, I hate to be a nay-sayer, but I see having professional athletes protest by not saying the Pledge of Allegiance to be a huge misfire as a messaging strategy. The flag is a symbol of the nation, when the players have far more specific grievances. This allows the opposition to take control of the debate over what the protests are about, among other weakness of this approach. The actual issues are lost in the hysteria about the symbol, which is not a great way to win support and persuade people since the flag popular with large swathes of Americans.

By Sandwichman. Originally published at Econospeak

A couple of days ago, the New York Times published an opinion piece by Jerry Lembcke “The Myth of the Spitting Antiwar Protester.” Lembcke wrote a book a few decades ago debunking that myth but it is still going strong… stronger than ever, actually. The trope of “they’re spitting on our veterans” is popular with anti-kneeling fanatics who maintain that athletes who protest during the national anthem are “spitting on the graves” of those who died to defend the flag and the freedom to do as you’re told and stand during the national anthem.

I have always found Lembcke’s argument and evidence compelling but I don’t like to take anything for granted. So I did a little extra digging. Some of that was digging through a stash of old Amex/Canada magazines that I have held onto for 45 years or so. A Vietnam veteran named Al Reynolds wrote an account published in the May-June 1973 issue reporting on the Vietnam Veterans Against the War contingent in the “Home with Honor” parade staged in New York City at the end of March of that year.

As far as I know that is the only contemporaneously published eyewitness account of veterans being spat upon. The veterans in question were anti-war protesters and the alleged culprit was a presumably “patriotic” spectator. Reynolds’ account, by the way, is substantially corroborated by the FBI’s file on the VVAW. Although it doesn’t mention spitting, it does refer to jeering and to three thwarted attempts by angry spectators to climb over barriers presumably to attack the protesters.I also searched several news databases to see if I could find any other contemporaneous accounts of either that event or others. Here is where things get intriguing. The New York Times carried a review of a play by Tom Cole, titled Medal of Honor Rag that referred to an American Legionnaire in Seattle who waited at the gate in the airport to spit on returning G.I.s because they were losing the war. I suspect that this alleged “legionnaire” is actually a fictionalization of the VVAW “Home with Honor” parade episode. All of the standard elements of the spitting myth are present in Cole’s play: the airport, the spitting, and the anti-war hippies screaming “baby killers” at the arriving servicemen. The one difference is that it is a pro-war “patriot” doing the spitting.

Medal of Honor Rag was first performed in Boston in April of 1975 and is supposed to be set in 1971. The first of the “Rambo” movies, First Blood was released in 1982. It contained the following transparently plagiarized bit of dialogue:


Rambo: Nothing is over! Nothing! It wasn’t my war. You asked me, I didn’t ask you. And I did what I had to do to win. But somebody wouldn’t let us win. Then I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport. Protesting me! Spitting! Calling me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me? Huh? Who are they? Unless they been me and been there and know what the hell they’re yelling about.

So there it is, folks. The making of a myth. An older woman in a fur coat, with carefully teased hair, her face distorted with rage, spitting at Vietnam veterans protesting against the war is transformed into a Legionnaire, with a red face, waiting at the airport gate to spit on returning G.I.s for not winning the war and finally into anti-war “maggots” protesting poor little John Rambo who was just doing what he had to do to win. So where does that leave us in October 2017? My, my, look at all the rhinestone Rambos!

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  1. Steelyman

    There is an ongoing thread on Sic Semper Tyrannis about this very subject. Colonel Lang says that he was personally subjected to spitting when he returned to the USA from Vietnam.

      1. JerseyJeffersonian

        Specifically, he was returning to the field in Vietnam just in time for the Tet Offensive.

        In my years of reading and contributing at Sic Semper Tyrannis, Col. Lang’s ‘blog, I have reached the conclusion that, although his political beliefs may in some instances be to the right of those that I myself brought to the table, he is an honorable man of considerable sophistication, and his account may therefore be believed. He is the diametrical opposite of a right-wing blowhard; if I would characterize his fundamental beliefs they are rather of a paleo-conservative/libertarian bent. The quality of the commentary at his ‘blog is generally of a high order; he enforces some standards over there, and this yields good results. This is not to say that it is an echo chamber, because it most definitely is not that; disputation is robust, but seldom degenerates to ad hominems, not just because Col. Lang disapproves, but because his readers/contributors themselves see how deleterious to communication and learning that that is.

        It is amazing to me that nobody in this comment thread has engaged with his account. But maybe not so amazing, confirmation bias being what it is; contrary reports, no matter the credibility of the source, are commonly just ignored so that the community in question’s favored narrative may be spun out unimpeded. So comforting in the short run, yet ultimately so stunting.

        1. Plenue

          “He is the diametrical opposite of a right-wing blowhard”

          Really? Because the tirade he and his commentators engaged in a few months ago about how the US military won’t be a ‘feakshow’ for sexual deviants had all the hallmarks are the ugliest, most retrograde conservatism.

          I find Lang of very limited use, especially after his enthusiastic support for the destruction of Libya in 2011. He’s fundamentally a warmonger, and one who likes to make excuses. He thinks the Southern Confederacy was led by noble people with a valid cause of secession, and that Vietnam was ultimately a terrible mistake, and not an illegal, immoral, knowingly manipulative act of deception based on antidemocratic paranoia.

    1. Harris

      Chris Kyle detailed being spit upon in San Diego by protesting crowds after returning from the Middle East in his book “American Sniper”.

      San Diego is a military town and there are no reports from any news source of this happening as it would have been big news.

  2. Chris

    Thank you, Yves. I have felt, and read on this site, some sympathy for the cause of well paid professional athletes kneeling during the SSB anthem. They appear to support people who have legitimate grievances against those in power. Hell, we all do (and it is sad that we don’t unite on one issue – not enough, but I digress).

    Yes I agree it is a bad strategy, given how people feel about their flag and, particularly, those that have died (often vainly) to defend what it represents.

    Yet again, those athletes are trying to make a point and there aren’t many good strategies in the game book, given what is up against the many.

    1. BoycottAmazon

      Protesting flag or anthem? The later, particularly the 3rd verse, a paean to white mastery over black slavery.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        It has been widely depicted in the right wing and even not so right wing media as protesting the flag, which is a bigger hot button with Americans given that that is also seen as one step away from flag-burning. One of my colleagues who follows popular culture relentlessly as part of her job, writing about tax (yes, pretty much every walk of life intersects tax and making connections to popular culture make the tax explications way more accessible and entertaining) and is somewhat left leaning has told me the protests are backfiring in a big way, that attendance at football events is down, and they are widely seen as denigrating the flag, a symbol of the nation.

        And not only is this not popular misconstruction, this is what Colin Kaepernick, who started these protests, said he refused to “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.’

        See also:

        Disrespecting the flag is a disgraceful way to protest Trump Washington Post

        Cleveland police union will not hold flag after ‘ignorant’ Browns anthem protest CBS Sports. Key para:

        The Cleveland Police Union, however, did not take kindly to the display from the Browns and is now refusing to hold the American flag during the first Browns regular season game in protest of the protest from the Browns players, according to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.

        1. Chris Sturr

          Kaepernick sat at first, then switched to kneeling as a sign of no disrespect for veterans. It could still be a bad strategy. But confronting blind patriotism head on could be part of what’s good about it. (I was shocked the other day, though, when some old friends of mine, not right wing, visiting bought into the whole anti-flag narrative and seemed to value politics-free football over the right to protest. That counts on the side of it being a bad strategy.)

          1. Carla

            “when some old friends of mine, not right wing, visiting bought into the whole anti-flag narrative”

            Curious, since they’re old friends, were you able to talk with them about this at all?

            The whole thing is so odd, since kneeling is actually a sign of respect. It appears to me that Kaepernick and the other NFL players are showing great restraint and very respectfully protesting the inhumane treatment of our fellow Americans.

            1. False Solace

              “Normies” (here I mean comfortable, middle class or higher people) always hate protesters.

              The idea behind protesting is not to get normies to support you. It’s to provoke a disproportionate response from authority figures. That’s what makes you sympathetic, not the protest. Normal people are always happier when everyone else sits down and shuts up, like they do. They just want to watch their football game and drive to work in peace (while ignoring the injustice all around them), why does everyone have to ruin it?

              When you get fired or arrested or worse for silently kneeling before the flag in prayer, that’s when brain cells start to kick in. Hopefully.

            2. zapster

              This appears to me to be a media smear campaign, not un-similar to what we treat our regime-change victims to. The players have made it perfectly clear what they are protesting, but the media narrative is all about the flag, not the stated issue. Football fans are being manipulated to reject the First Amendment and any attempt to get justice for blacks.

              1. Lee


                Right on the mark. What they are protesting should garner all the publicity. That some don’t like that they are protesting or how: minor footnote.

        2. a different chris

          >told me the protests are backfiring in a big way, that attendance at football events is down

          Again, attendance at NASCAR is down way, way more. I provided a link last time. Football itself is becoming a lot less popular as parents regard their young sons undamaged heads and decide to keep them that way.

          As far as the protests “backfiring”, I have commented below. They aren’t supposed to make people happy.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Again, from what I see, the protests are eliciting debate about the anthem, the flag, football, and football players to a vastly greater degree than police brutality towards blacks. So if a protest makes people unhappy about issues not related (much, at all) to the protest, please explain to me how productive it has been. Lambert and I have been watching activism of various forms for years, and I gotta tell you, this doesn’t cut it.

        3. johnnygl

          You assume kapernick’s audience is the general public. I haven’t seen polls, but anecdotally, kapernick is viewed with sympathy by black americans. If that is his target audience, it could be argued he’s already winning by showing black america the ugly, reactionary character of white elites. Trump, in his own special way, of course, helps kapernick make this point.

            1. ambrit

              No, it seems not. It is a very accurate description of the relationship between sports teams and the MIC.

        4. Ricardo20000

          Colin Kaepernick is a hero. People should be glad to get down on one knee for human rights, or they can get down on BOTH KNEES AND BEG.
          It’s sad that the Pittsburgh Penguins, hockey, and a bunch of foreigners, have more respect for the office of the President than the current occupant.
          This doesn’t mean that the Golden State Warriors are wrong to decline the invite, or for the Cheeto to retaliate politically through tweets. But to demand silence, and threaten retaliation, is a flagrant breach of First Amendment rights that have defined the US since the Revolution. Remember that Cheeto took an oath to uphold the Constitution of the US. This means his comments are cause for impeachment.
          That a bunch of yahoos think athletes should shut up is just disguised bigotry. Perhaps these knuckleheads should SHUT UP AND STICK TO THEIR JOBS. Athletes have the same rights as anyone. No one would criticize a player for selling snow tires, plywood, or all-inclusive vacations because this is their right as public figures beloved by their fans. Yet so-called fans expect athletes to keep silent on the most important issues of the day as if they have no brains, judgement, or character.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            You appear to be misconstruing my point. We were early to take note of and support Black Lives Matter. But I am differentiating between effective and not so effective protest. What has the kneeling led to? Mainly a debate about the flag and the anthem and football and football players. I’ve seen almost no discussion of how police treat blacks or disproportionate sentencing and imprisonment as a result of these protests, and I am in the business of surveying the news.

            1. savedbyirony

              I am not finding this in the online ESPN reporting of the meeting today between R. Goodell and player’s representatives but during the day, ESPN’s TV “NFL insiders” reporters, who have been covering these meetings as well as the meetings scheduled for owners this week, reported that the League and players reps discussed the NFL giving formal backing to this: , as well as running public service messages during their games covering matters of policing and organizing/helping to fund a training seminar at Morehouse College during the off season for players to develop methods of furthering their social justice work. (Just to add, two of the players at the meeting today testified last year before the Senate in regards to a similar reform bill last year.)

              They did not report that the players/league came yet to any agreements, nor what any of the owners thought of these proposals, but that R. Goodell would be taking these proposals to the owners’ meetings and meet later this week again with players’ reps. The “Insiders” also reported that the League will almost certainly not attempt to change its written policy towards players and “The Anthem” during this season.

              (For what it’s worth, i listen to ESPN often during the morning/early afternoon and find the reporting and commentary during the day often quite political and quite supportive of the players.. The “Insiders” do not always get it right, but they do tend to report from reliable sources.)

          2. Dave

            Yes they have a right to protest. Does an employee have a right to protest about political issues while at work though? At a game they are an employee and thus have to conduct themselves as an entity of said business (and that businesses standard of acceptable behavior). I know if I started protesting at work I would be in trouble.

            Then again no one plays the anthem before my work starts and if they told me I had to stand I would tell them no I do not.

            1. Stephen Gardner

              Fundamentally your argument is based on the “divine right of capital”. Why should an employer be able to assert his or her rights with more force than an employee? The hierarchy you seem to support reinforces wage slavery. What difference does it make if it is your employer that crushes your rights rather than the government?

        5. Plenue

          The utter refusal of most Americans to critically examine anything is fascinating. The flag, a symbol, is simply not to be repudiated, ever. And Americans simply will not engage in self-reflection as to whether everything that flag represents is actually noble, or whether things that go on in this country live up to the supposed ideals the flag represents. No, first you must kowtow to the symbols, anything else comes second.

          1. Stephen Gardner

            I think this is because the glory of American symbols is pretty much all that many people have to feel good about. So much has deteriorated in this country over the last 4 decades that many only have their illusions to cling to.

      2. PhilM

        Yes, because it wasn’t the US Federal Government that crushed the white slave-owning states of the Confederacy, it was some other entity. If only we could figure out what flag those union armies were carrying, that would be the one blacks could really stand up for, even sing to.

        Maybe we should find out which flag bears the authority of the Supreme Court that rules on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of–wait, what political body does that document constitute again? Louisiana? No, that’s not it. Well, whatever it is, that would be one they could get behind, as our likeliest hope against people who beat the crap out of them for drinking at the white drinking fountains. I’m sure it will come to me.

        Wait, which political authority has an EEOC and a CRT to bring lawsuits against national corporations and institutions for racially discriminatory practices? Darn, it’s on the tip of my tongue! Is it Alabama, or Maine?

        To see blacks surrendering or repudiating the American flag, or the national anthem, which technically represents the authority and armed might of the Federal Government of the United States–now that is a colossal irony. Because that flag represents the only entity of any power that has fought, literally and figuratively, for their rights–however episodically or imperfectly–for the last 150 years. Rejecting that flag metaphorically leaves blacks without a national political attachment. Just like before the Civil War. Good times, eh?

        Well sure, good times for some people. Because as blacks surrender their attachment to the national authority, racists everywhere, both white and black, will rejoice. White racists will once again claim the national standard as wholly their own. What a relief to give up the long-discredited and divisive Confederate battle flag as superfluous! Finally, and once again, for the first time in 150 years, the American flag will belong to the whites. Black racists will have what they want as well: sole moral claim to speak for the interests of a racially defined sub-group, in rejection of universalizing political authority. Beautiful for the spokespeople; for the sub-group, not so much.

        So, blacks are the last group in the country to be rejecting the idea or symbol of a national authority–unless, that is, they believe that they have actually achieved local political dominance, and no longer need strong national authority at all.

        And that is pretty unlikely. Because every other interest group in the nation has less motivation to maintain central authority than do the poor, or the vulnerable, or minorities. To the rich, the flag means only the IRS; the rich respect the flags of the world equally: the French flag means the defense of subsidized farming and great cheese; the Chinese flag secures them access to enserfed labor. To the corporations, that flag is the EPA, and every other agency they wish to be free of; to the racists, it means equal employment laws, and every other thing they wish to be free of; to the South, we know exactly what that flag means: the separation of church and state. How they would love to be free of it at last, or bring it to its knees!

        People who demean the symbol of the body that has been the sole guarantor of their access to the universal rights of man and citizen might do well to re-examine their political assumptions. Just to grant equal time, the same recommendation goes for the white middle class, which, in another incredible irony, still seems to think the American flag represents something they should stand up for.

    2. L

      One of the things that is often left out of the kneeling narrative I find is that Colin Kapernick originally was protesting by sitting out the Anthem but it was one of his teammates, a veteran himself, who persuaded him to switch to kneeling on the grounds that it was respectful protest. In essence the idea was that soldiers kneel at the graves of comerades to honor them and the argument went that that would be a way of protesting deaths that was not a direct insult to the flag.

      1. johnnygl

        Matt orfalea made a short cideo on this. It is on youtube. Kapernick switched to kneeling after a face-to-face sit down meeting with a green beret who wrote kapernick a letter and, apparently, suggested kneeling as a more respectful option.

        Even the classiest move to express outrage over injustice is met by a wall of opposition from the right wing noise machine.

        Vietnam protestors were hated, at first, too. But, eventually, they helped turn public opinion against the war. Kapernick may yet win the long game. A lot of people, including sports pundits think it is terrible how kapernick has been black balled.

        1. Wukchumni

          Kaepernick was good for a few years, but like a lot of NFL QB’s, the other teams figured him out, and his last season’s performance was in a word: dreadful.

          That said, there is always an ongoing QB shortage, so a lot of stiffs (i’m looking at you E.J. Manuel) such as him get backup jobs where they ride the bench, and the coach prays they won’t be ever utilized.

          I doubt he’ll ever take a snap again, stealing his protest thunder.

      2. Elizabeth Burton


        “People take a knee to pray. In the military, we take a knee all the time. It’s one of the things we do. When we’re exhausted on patrol, they say take a knee and face out. So we take a knee like that. We’ll take a knee as the classic symbol of respect in front of a brother’s grave site, a soldier on a knee.” — Nate Boyer, veteran and NFL player.

  3. jgordon

    Spitting on veterans is a side issue to the kneeling thing. The real question is why did the NFL see fit to turn every one of their sports games into an overwrought display of patriotism? It’s like a used car dealership with a giant American flag hanging over its lot–and whenever a customer arrives the national anthem plays and all the salesmen get down and kneel for it. OK so they did kneel, but why were they conflating the flag and patriotism with their shady business in the first place? Messing with people like this seems a lot more contemptible to me than simply kneeling.

    Aside from that, the NFL is a private business so there’s no reason to get worked up over this. The millionaire ballers can kneel for the anthem and the billionaire owners can fire them for contract violation. Everyone gets to express his opinion and the fans mostly keep watching the games (ie the money keeps rolling in). It’s a win for all.

      1. wilroncanada

        I can see the recruitment posters now.
        Don’t join the NFL and its CTE pipeline until you’ve tried:
        Joining the US military to develop your brain damage even faster, or try our menu of other features: PTSD, sexual harrassment, torture, pathological murder, and much much more.

    1. Blake

      I think that the government pays them to put on displays of patriotism, as well as building stadiums for them. So it’s killing two birds with one stone, making propaganda and giving taxpayer money to rich people.

    2. johnnygl

      With non-profit status while making billions, buckets of money from the pentagons’s recruitment budget, and heavily subsidized stadiums, it makes near zero sense to call NFL a ‘private business’.

      1. jgordon

        Professional sports are not government agencies and are not regulated like government agencies. If you would like to see them nationalized I encourage you to start a petition and contact your representatives with a proposal.

        1. JohnnyGL

          I’d prefer to withdraw all of the subsidies to nationalization. Do you like paying for stuff that belongs to some billionaire oligarch with political connections? Because that’s what’s happening right now.

  4. The Rev Kev

    2,709,918 Americans served in Vietnam during the war years. How may soldiers were spat upon so that it is even a significant statistic? For more context – more than 1,300 people die every year after falling down stairs so would the number of soldiers spat upon be larger or smaller than this number each year during the war years?

    1. BoycottAmazon

      In a rational world a significant number would have to be something higher than the number of Vietnamese Children burned by (illegal) White Phosphorus or Napalm. (in theory then number should be all civilians, but to be safe on classification in colonial war, lets put the number at children under 6, or maybe 8). After all, being spit upon burns worse than Napalm (or even White Phosphorus when it bores down to bone and flares off).

      1. BoycottAmazon

        How does one compare the insult of being spit upon to ignominious act of being anonymously murdered (and are still being murdered) in the thousands an undeclared war in Laos that most American’s still don’t know ever happened, much less that the USA has never done anything to rectify, It’s the insult of these “subhuman” peoples don’t matter. Certainly they matter less than a suffering cat or dog caught on the web.

  5. Christ on a Bike

    It amazes me that with all of the foreign wars we’re fighting, with a couple of more adversaries waiting in the wings, plus whole sections of the country devastated by natural disasters (not to mention that, as a practical matter, one out of four homeless people is a veteran) – that this stagey flag hokum is what grips people for weeks. There is an endless appetite for cultural outrage items. I mean, we did all of this 25 years ago with the flag and Piss Christ and the NEA. It’s depressing.

    I’ll say this though, Trump is great at this crap.

    1. Wukchumni

      One thing about glorious leader, is he has used a giant oversized old glory continually as a method to get his way when local communities protest something he’s doing, as per this episode in Rancho Palos Verdes from 2008:

      Turning onto scenic Palos Verdes Drive South, one encounters breathtaking grandeur: the vast ocean, an infinite horizon. And then there is Donald Trump’s 70-foot flagpole flying a nearly 400-square-foot flag.

      The flagpole that Trump illegally erected at his Rancho Palos Verdes golf club over a year ago is at the center of a simmering controversy between the billionaire and the California Coastal Commission. The conflict is the latest in a series for Trump, who has long had a do-it-without-permission approach to his real estate holdings.

      After getting retroactive approval for the flagpole from the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council, Trump is refusing to pay a $10,000 filing fee for the commission’s evaluation of the flagpole and its effect on the coast.

      Trump declared victory in October 2006 when the Rancho Palos Verdes City Council voted 3 to 2 to let the flagpole stand under a “conditional use permit.”

      “It’s a great day for the American flag and what it represents,” he wrote in a post on his blog.

      The real estate mogul of “You’re fired” fame said he put up poles of similar dimension at his golf clubs across the country, including New York, New Jersey and Florida, all without permits.

      But that ruffled feathers in Palm Beach, Fla., where zoning officials asked Trump to remove the flag. The flag was 15 times larger than what code allows, according to the Palm Beach Post.

      Trump waged a $25-million lawsuit against the town when Palm Beach officials started fining him $1,250 per day. That dispute was settled in April 2007 when Trump agreed to a pole 10 feet shorter and away from the ocean, and to donate $100,000 to charities, according to the Palm Beach Post.

      “If the Coastal Commission wants to rip down the American flag, we’ll see them at the Supreme Court,” he said.


      So, the NFL protests are playing right into his wheelhouse, in a patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel, fashion.

  6. MarkerZero

    Yves says “I see having professional athletes protest by not saying the Pledge of Allegiance to be a huge misfire as a messaging strategy,” and this tactic “is not a great way to win support and persuade people since the flag is popular with large swathes of Americans.”

    Yves echoes advice and wisdom in Saul Alinsky, Rules For Radicals (1971) –

    “This failure of many of our younger activists to understand the art of communication has been disastrous. Even the most elementary grasp of the fundamental idea that one communicates within the experience of his audience —and gives full respect to the other’s values —would have ruled out attacks on the American flag. The responsible organizer would have known that it is the establishment that has betrayed the flag while the flag, itself, remains the glorious symbol of America’s hopes and aspirations, and he would have conveyed this message to his audience.”

    1. jake

      All public protest in the U.S. from the left is characterized as anti-American; it’s hard to see what form of dissent wouldn’t be turned against the aggrieved party. Everything, in the end, is taken as an offense to the flag and country.

      Case in point — the spitting fiction. Protesters of the Vietnam War, including veterans of that war, never did it, so the right simply invented this outrage and has flogged the peace movement with it ever since.

      1. marym

        Agree. The “spitting” was mostly fiction, and even distortion (anti-war protesters having been spat on). Is there now a potential for the characterization of the football protest becoming another generational myth?

        Politifact on attendance and ratings

        (I’m not certain of the general bias for snopes and politifact. I look at the sources and reasoning for a particular item before using them as a link. YMMV.)

        Ratings were down 8 percent in 2016, but experts said the drop was modest and in line with general ratings for the sports industry. The NFL remains the most watched televised sports event in the United States.

        Ratings in 2017 so far suggest a similar year-on-year drop, but experts say it’s too early to tell, and external factors like Hurricane Irma, which coincided with the season’s first week, may help explain the drop.

        NFL game attendance dropped slightly from 2016 to 2017, and rose from 2015 to 2016.

        As for political motivation, there’s little evidence to suggest people are boycotting the NFL. Most of the professional sports franchises are dealing with declines in popularity.

        One point politifact makes is that some of the polling is more about how people, not necessarily fans or attendees, perceive a decline in NFL popularity, rather than a poll of people actually choosing to boycott. Has their perception been manipulated, as with the spitting?

        Trump also noted that NFL games were “boring” due to rules providing some measure of protection for the players against brain injury, so there’s that.

        1. JohnnyGL

          I thought we may have hit peak NFL a few years ago. It just seemed like it was absolutely massive and dominated everything. It’s important to keep in mind that sports tastes rise and fall slowly over time and rarely stand still. Horseracing and boxing were huge in the 1950s and 1960s. Baseball has been in a slow decline for decades. Things like soccer and MMA have been on the rise.

          Games are getting too long, packed with too many ads. CTE issue has been gnawing away at people, too. It’s hard to look at big hits the same way, anymore.

            1. Wukchumni

              I’d like to see a similar CTE study on rugby players, to compare it with NFL players. There isn’t a whole lot of padding and the ‘helmet’ a rugby player wears, looks a lot more like something a 1920’s American football player would have on their noggin.

          1. MLS

            I believe you’re correct about “peak NFL” and it just so happens to coincide with “peak fantasy football”. Fans care about a collection of individual players (their team) more than a particular franchise, and with Red Zone and streaming, why sit through an entire 3 hour game when the highlights will suffice?

            Add to that the proliferation of illegal streams which are comically easy to come by, those viewers don’t even get picked up in the Nielsen ratings.

  7. ambrit

    Symbols are powerful. In the hierarchy of meaning, one flag easily trumps, (no pun intended,) a group of professional athletes. The ‘Flag’ is an universally recognized symbol of ‘Patriotism.’ Why else does the American military expend any treasure at all on sports based propaganda? To connect a “civil” war game with a particular organ of the power structure. A very real equivalency is displayed and exalted. In a very real sense, the sports game and team serve the interests of the ‘higher power.’ Skewing or negating this long established relationship is a mugs’ game. Since the patrons of the sports team are at the exibhition specifically to see and vicariously experience a violent competition, why not subvert that and wear ‘Peace Symbols’ on their jerseys? That would be really subversive and work on the ‘fans’ in a subtle fashion.

  8. JTMcPhee

    Re “spitting:” I’ve written this before, but it seems topical. I “served” in Vietnam from August 1967 to August 1968. When I was discharged in 1969, I went “home” to the town I grew up in, a near north bedroom suburb of Chicago. I had a bit of a skin condition from a year of cold-water shaving in Vietnam, so I let my beard grow a bit, closely trimmed in deference to my mother. My hair was cut Army short.

    I thought maybe I might go join the American Legion for a little fellowship. The Post had sponsored my Boy Scout troop for many years, the troop whose leaders, mostly WW II vets, some with “serious” medals for combat experiences, taught me all kinds of “American” virtues and values– “On my honor, I will do my duty to God and my country…” The members of the Post were fathers of the kids I went to school with. I delivered newspapers to many of them, seven days a week, early in the morning, my first job starting at around age 10. I mowed the lawns of some of them. Many went to the same Presbyterian church I grew up in.

    The Army did not give me a lot of gear on discharge, just a “Class A” green dress uniform, a set of khaki dress, two sets of worn fatigues, my old boots and “low quarter” shoes, and a field jacket with my unit patches on it — the yellow and black horse head shield of the First Cavalry, and the red, yellow, black and red triangle of the Second Armored Division with “Hell On Wheels” in big black letters.

    So, wearing my emblazoned field jacket, I go to the Post one fall evening, a tidy fieldstone building with white trim and white-painted stones bordering the walkways and a gray 75-mm cannon and the big flag and flagpole out front. The Boy Scout’s camp trailer where the tents and cooking gear and such were stored was still in the parking lot out back. There was a bar along the right side of the main room, which had all kinds of gear and ribbons and flags and photos on the walls and hanging from various corbels and hooks.

    When I walked in, wearing my field jacket, it was a little like one of those scenes in a junk Western, where the stranger pushes the swinging doors open and everyone turns and gets quiet. These were mostly people I had known for years. Friends of my parents, their kids still in school with my sisters. Like in the movie scenes, everyone turned back to their conversations. No greetings or welcome. Nobody spat on me, physically, but it was pretty clear that “I made them uncomfortable.” Not a welcome or hello or anything of the sort. I sat at a table for a while, puzzled and getting a little angry. And finally got up and left.

    Of course it was all made OK by the grand parade in the City of Chicago, in 1986, to “welcome the Vietvets home.” What a (Family Blog) charade. William Westmoreland, who did more than most to fill those body bags with dead GIs and the VA facilities with the damaged and the homeless streets with the demolished, was the Grand Reviewer. I wish I had had the courage to follow my impulse, as I trudged by with other First Cav vets, to stop right in front of Westy and all those “dignitaries” and the TV cameras, and give him the middle finger salute he so richly deserved. But everyone else was all tears and hugs and unit pride and stuff, so I just gave him a snappy left-hand salute (a bit of covert disrespect for military discipline that was becoming common where I was in Vietnam, toward the end of my tour) and continued to march. “We gave you a parade, soldier! Now suck it up and get on with it!”

    The stage-managing of “patriotic support the Troops” has gotten more ubiquitous and patent for the perpetuation of war, Vietnam-style. The men of “love the warrior, not the war” is thoroughly subsumed and institutionalized and just a part of the air we breathe any more. Given human adaptability (see residents of Beirut and Kirkuk out shopping for bread despite snipers and mortar rounds and bombs), I don’t see any sudden rude awakening by the mopes leading to any ending of what has become “normalcy.” So “we” are saddled with this kind of sh!t, “ 108 U.S F-35s Won’t Be Combat-Capable — $21 billion worth of ‘concurrency orphans’ How the political economy actually works… “War in Afghanistan turns 16, earns drivers license,”

  9. blkwhiskey

    Iraq war/conflict/police action/occupation, etc. vet here…

    Reynold’s account rings true across generations, at least in my experiences with my own cohort and veterans of older wars (with just as imperfect memories of what they did “over there”, of course). If they have done anything, the past sixty years of imperial warfighting have just put the abandonment issues in our culture in a clearer focus.

    A contemporary example is Sgt. Bergdhal. The VVA, VFWs, and VVAW pushed so hard and for so long on the POW-MIA issue, yet what do they do when able to actually take a stand on this is modern times? They leave and judge him extra-judicially, with some of the most cancerous accusations and projections coming from my (OIF/OND/OEF) generation, especially those with delusions of grandeur and hopes of obtaining an appointment in the neo-con cash machine.

    NB: I rarely hand out with other vets. And if I do, booze is usually needed to bust through the bravado. I always find it fascinating how a six-pack into a conversation, bluster transmutes into pain, which then releases the raw, mostly unaddressed trauma of doing terrible things to your fellow man.

  10. Arizona Slim

    Here is how I protest while saying the Pledge of Allegiance:

    I mumble my way through most of it. Then I raise my voice and say, “With liberty and JUSTICE for ALL!”

    1. Wukchumni

      I volunteered @ our local museum and during the dreadful ‘ssshrubery years, occasionally ‘accidentally’ flew old glory upside down @ the top of the flagpole, but nobody ever noticed, as people rarely look up.

      1. flora

        I get your purpose and meaning. However, flying the flag upside down as political protest runs the risk of “crying wolf”, diluting one of the US’s recognized SOS signals.

        “§ 8(a)The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.”

        1. Stephen Gardner

          Yeah, because pirates may seized that museum or the engines may have failed and left them dead in the water.

          Context my friend it’s more important than you realize

  11. mad as hell

    I attended a preseason NBA game last week and saw something that I had never seen before. There were a large amount of black spectators in the stands, a good percentage. I am not going to guess at a percentage but I will say that there were more blacks in attendance that at a football or baseball game. What I was surprised to see was that when the national anthem was played a good portion( I stopped counting at ten) did not remove their hats during the singing of the anthem.

    I hope that spreads and takes off like a prairie fire as time goes on!

  12. Robin Kash

    Confronting the symbols of the nation–the flag, the anthem, the pledge of allegiance is precisely what needs to be done. The bought-and-paid-for-patriotism that is part-and-parcel of the faux patiotism at NFL games needs to be shown for what is it. Mr. Kaepernick’s sitting/kneeling during athem/pledge is perfect: silent, but speaking volumes; non-violent exposing violence at home and abroad; transportable and easily replicable.
    Many of us have worked for years on addressing the substantive issues and symptoms of racism, and people of color, especially black people, keep dying, all too often at the hands of those sworn to serve and protect. Past time for the very symbols used to excuse and hallow such terrorism to be challenged and have the dissonance of words and reality transformed into a closer approximation of what they are supposed to stand for.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m sorry, but with this form of protest the press and onlookers, and not the protestors, control what the protest is perceived to be about. Kaepernick is protesting the flag and other symbols of the nation. Ergo, he is protesting the nation. And you are surprised at the reaction?

      It was clear what Black Lives Matter represents. And until their leadership was to a large degree hickacked by Team Dem, they were engaged in a very effective form of protest, the die-ins. Which is probably why that was put to a stop.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        This protest had two fairly distinct phases – pre and post Trump.

        Pre-Trump, Kaepernick made it pretty clear that he was protesting the police continuing to murder black people with impunity. It seemed to me that unfortunately the protest was actually petering out since Kaepernick didn’t have a team this year.

        It was only when Trump chimed in that the protest was redefined. For the right it became about disrespecting the flag and for the left it became about opposing Trump with just about everybody spouting off publicly forgetting what it was supposed to be about in the first place. For some, I assume the obfuscation was deliberate.

        Kaepernick had no idea when he started this that Trump would be elected and divert attention away from the real issue. He did an admirable job bringing attention to the problems as not nearly enough athletes speak out on this kind of thing.

        Look at Pat Tillman, the ex-NFLer who went to Afghanistan and got killed. He had become extremely disenchanted with what the military was doing there before he got killed, but that didn’t stop the powers that be from using his death to broadcast a bunch of patriotic nonsense. Only later did they reluctantly admit that he didn’t really die as a hero rescuing small children, widows and puppies from the forces of evil but was shot by his own men, possibly fragged, and I don’t believe they’ve ever really addressed Tillman’s disillusionment. They aren’t touting him as a hero any more – even worse, he’s just ignored.

        I agree with you that this protest hasn’t worked as many would have liked it to, but it’s not Kaepernick’s fault that things went the way they did, or Tillman’s either for what happened to him.

        I’m hoping what finally might get the issue some traction is the lawsuit Seahawk’s player Michael Bennett is bringing against the police who put a gun to his head. You don’t see the NFL talking that one up too much but I’m pretty sure Bennett hasn’t forgotten about it.

        1. Arizona Slim

          Pat’s mother, Mary Tillman, wrote an excellent book about how she and her family exposed the lies of the U.S. government. Title: Boots on the Ground by Dusk.

  13. PKMKII

    The Right doesn’t care about honoring the troops, they care about honoring the narrative, that the actions the pentagon takes with the armed forces must always be pure and moral, unquestionable, and that the righteousness of the action does not originate from any abstract argument about the action, but from the fact that America was the one who engaged in it. Anyone who questions the narrative, including vets, are viciously attacked. Happened with ‘Nam, happened with Rory Fanning, happened with the soldiers in Iraq who complained their humvees weren’t adequately armored.

  14. monday1929

    Tremendous error ceding patriotism to the Right. Occupy should have called for “Law and Order” and a return to a Rule of Law and a “Broken Windows” policy” for Bankers – arresting them for minor violations might have prevented the larger violations that followed. The Left should point out the Traitorous nature of the Banker crimes and the damage to patriotic Americans Left and Right that hundreds of bilions in bank facilitated laundered drug and terrorist money has done to this Land.

    1. JTMcPhee

      Yep. Exactamundo.

      To paraphrase somebody or other, “Faint heart never won fair treatment.”

      Nor did it ever result in homeostatic regulation of the political economy.

      1. Arizona Slim

        Count me as an outspoken leftie who owns a flag and flies it on major holidays. Thereby confounding the rest of the neighborhood.

    2. PhilM

      “Tremendous error ceding patriotism to the Right.” Brilliant. You put very well in a sentence what it took me many paragraphs to approach.

  15. Elizabeth Burton

    As has been noted, the protest is of the anthem; adding the flag was part of the right-wing propaganda.

    It is illegal to compel anyone in the US to stand for the anthem, salute the flag, or recite the Pledge, according to the SCOTUS.

    I disagree that this plays into the hands of the establishment. If we were still living in the days when the only source of information was the mainstream media, yes. Now? Not so much. The number of veterans who loudly declared and continue to declare their support for the protesters could never have had a voice before the age of social media. Now, they do.

    And reverence for patriotic symbols is decidedly less among the newer generations, who have seen too much damage done in the name of those symbols to have a whole lot of respect for them. Indeed, “patriotism” is, in the minds of an increasing number of people fed up and sick and tired, opposing what those symbols have come to stand for.

    Frankly, I stopped saluting the flag and reciting the Pledge a decade or more ago.

  16. VietnamVet

    Vietnam Vets are losers. And, that is the way we were treated. What is frightening is that the same theme is being played all over again. That war couldn’t be won because Russia told LBJ that if he invaded North Vietnam, nuclear weapons would be used. Today DJT is in LBJ’s shoes. Will the President turn North Korea and the world into glass or will he try to take out Rocket Man with a conventional war that will kill millions, start a war with China, and cannot be won? So far there have been no diplomatic tweets only harangues from the White House that fail to acknowledge reality.

  17. ChrisAtRU

    So I wrote this lengthy – and dare I say somewhat hilarious response, replete with links to tweets, articles etc … then fell asleep before completing last night … with my computer unplugged … and I lost everything when it ran out of battery … :)

    But in typical #NCCommentariatIsAwesome fashion, I see a healthy debate here, so I’m just going to add a few words.

    Strategy is all good for the grand scheme of permanent end to institutional injustice. Concern about (poor) strategy shouldn’t cause us to abandon that which is more visceral and causes discomfort.

    Forget about right wing and not so right wing media. The right will accept no form of protest against the police as valid. The “not so right” and “liberal left” are already prepared to accept that BLM was also part of the Russian conspiracy. We live in the age of largely useless mainstream journalism.

    Where I see strategy fail is in the large number of African American players and players union representatives absolutely missing the opportunity to hit the indifferent, duplicitous, charlatan team owners where it hurts – in the wallet. That’s where #takeAKnee is largely useless to me. Remember when the NFL moved the SuperBowl from Arizona because of the state’s refusal to recognize MLK Day?

    “Norm Braman (the owner of the Philadelphia Eagles):

    … I think it would be an affront to our public and our players if the game was played there.

    Arizona eventually recognized MLK Day in 1992 and was awarded a Super Bowl in 1996 (and again in 2008).”

    Imagine if the players and their union made it clear that they were willing to withhold their labor or not support having the Super Bowl in certain cities unless there was clear movement on addressing the current injustice.
    Instead, we get Jerry Jones or Shahid Khan on the field joining arms with players in some erstwhile kumbaya display to satiate the jingos (mostly) and other well meaning folks who do see the anthem/flag with more genuine affection. Quelle surprise! The jingos are not sated! With respect to the well meaning, I’ll add a personal anecdote:

    I have among my acquaintances on a certain social network, and older widow who is a classic midwestern Dem liberal. When the anthem protests started, she was furious in her posting of meme’s and articles that decried the protesters … until about a month or two ago. She flipped – and now posts stuff supporting the protesters. Now, I don’t know why … but I have my suspicions regarding an intervention by members of her family. I’ll leave it there, but the point I want to make is that we shouldn’t underestimate the ability of people of conscience who despite strong love of country can understand the absolute need to rally against the type of injustice that has brought us to this point.

  18. Sandwichman

    Just as “reality has a well-known liberal bias,” patriotism and myth have a conservative bias. Dissenters waving flags do not get credit for waving flags. There is a reason for this, I believe. “Order” is a function of rank; order is the obedience of those below to those above. Therefore disobedience is disorder.

    I am currently writing a follow-up post on the spitting myth that also takes a look at two sides of “stolen valor” — first, the false claims of Vietnam service by people who didn’t and secondly the wildly exaggerated claims about the numbers of fakers that are repeated without a simple check of the census reports they are supposedly based on.

    Why would people falsely claim to have served in Vietnam? And why would others be so indignant about the imposture that they would circulate incredible numbers without a second thought? It seems to me obviously a quarrel over rank, distinction and status, which effectively validates a social system in which some people are entitled to privileges (they are “ordained”) and others are not.

    In short, it is “The Great Chain of Being” with the divine right of kings at the top of the heap and an infinite succession of levels below. “You step out of line, the man come and take you away.”

    The problem as I see it is not “disorder.” Disorder is as common as dirt. Life would cease if disorder could be eliminated. The problem is the kind of thinking that is unable to tolerate accommodate disorder. The “idea of progress” is one of the masks that such intolerance wears. Things may be bad but if only we don’t provoke the beast, things will improve?




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