Chancellor

The First Amendment and the Flag

In light of recent events, I would like to once again share some thoughts on what I consider two essential pillars of our society – the First Amendment and the American flag.

Like all who served in the military, I believe that First Amendment rights are the foundation of this great country. In fact, the military officer’s oath requires each man and woman to swear that they will “support and defend the constitution of the United States.” All Americans should have the right to protest their concerns.

As our collegiate sports teams take the field or the court, it is important that they understand they have my full support to exercise their rights as citizens. However, they should also know that I strongly believe that kneeling during the National Anthem will only further alienate those well-meaning folks who are equally concerned about social injustice, racism and the issues of inequality that still exist in our great country. 

It should go without saying that those who serve in the military do not have a monopoly on patriotism. Many of our greatest patriots never served a day in uniform. That said, for those of us who do, or did, wear a uniform – whether in the military, as law enforcement or as a first responder – the flag has a special meaning. We salute it every day as a sign of respect for those who served before us. We wear it on our uniforms when we go into combat. The stars and stripes are draped across the casket of our fallen heroes and the flag – our American flag – is the last article of faith given to the families of those who paid the ultimate price. 

The American flag doesn’t just represent our country. It represents the ideals upon which she was founded. Do we fall short of those ideals? Of course we do. But to me the flag says we will never stop trying to become a more perfect union. More inclusive. More understanding. Fully engaged in fixing the problems that plague our society. That’s the goal, but to reach it we must have a common bond; some symbol that reminds us of our past struggles and propels us to a brighter, more enlightened future. That symbol is the American flag.

For those who want to express their concerns in the athletic arena, I would encourage them to do so-- before the National Anthem. During this week’s Monday Night Football game, the Dallas Cowboys linked arms and knelt before the flag arrived on the field. Then, as the Anthem was announced, they immediately stood, faced the flag and many put their hand over their heart. These two actions gave voice to their concerns, demonstrated solidarity as a team, and showed respect for our flag. Last night, at Lambeau Field, both the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears followed suit – standing and linking arms during the Anthem. 

While not all of our football teams are on the field for the anthem, the sentiment is the same regardless of the sport. Whether on the turf, the parquet, the clay, the grass or poolside – as a citizen and a student – you have an absolute, inalienable right to express yourself. When we stand for the flag, we are in fact standing in appreciation for that right and all the other rights we enjoy as Americans.

Our students personify the very best of America and I am proud of each and every one of them. I only hope that as part of their experience at UT they will come to see the flag as I do – a symbol of promise and solidarity, not division.

Thank you, as always, for reading. I’ll write again soon.