If I had any guts, I’d have a t-shirt made up that says, “I Wouldn’t Stand for the National Anthem Even if I Could.”
I would put that shirt on and march directly into the snakepit—a Chicago Blackhawks hockey game. They go nuts at Blackhawks games when the Star Spangled Banner is played. The fans whoop and roar and clap throughout the whole damn song. It’s tradition—celebrate the culture that stole land from the guy whose face is on our jerseys.
But I never stand whenever the national anthem breaks out anywhere because I can’t. That’s one of the advantages that comes with being in a wheelchair (besides scoring the occasional prime parking space). Those of us in wheelchairs are probably the only ones who can get away with not standing at full attention for the anthem. I can even get away with not taking off my hat because I can’t raise my arms.
But I actually often feel guilty about not participating, not because I can’t do it but because I silently hide behind my privilege, like a coward. I feel like I should shout out,
“Hey everybody. Just to be clear here, I wouldn’t be standing right now even if I could.”
But I never do. And then I get mad at myself for not having the guts to toss away my shield and place myself at risk.
Seeing all these athletes protesting injustice by wearing solidarity t-shirts and not standing for the anthem is pretty exciting. I see it and I say to myself, “If I was at that game, I’d sit right down in solidarity with them, dammit!” But of course my protest would be lost on everyone. Everybody would give me the benefit of the doubt unless I took some decisive action to make my motivations obvious.
Thus, the t-shirt.
I fantasize about wearing it to a Blackhawks game. I imagine some fans, intoxicated by beer and patriotism, becoming so enraged that they can no longer hold themselves back. They pummel me. They don’t care if I’m in a wheelchair. And the next day the headlines read, “Livid Hockey Fans Pummel Man in Wheelchair.”
That ought to raise the political debate to a whole new level, eh? I’ll be a great pummelled American hero to some, a scorned demon to others. Colin Kaepernick will visit me in the intensive care unit. He’ll present me with an autographed football while I lie there like a mummy in traction flashing a thumbs up.
Of course, I’ll be permanently banned from attending any Blackhawks games or other sporting events. But maybe my action will inspire a movement. Maybe similar protests will break out around the country as other people in wheelchairs print up their own “I Wouldn’t Stand Even if I Could” t-shirts.
They won’t be able to get away with it as easily as I did. After my little stunt, no one will ever look at fans in wheelchairs the same way again. Their innocence will be permanently lost. In order to get past gate security, my wheelchair comrades will have to wear the home team jersey over their protest shirt and then remove the jersey just as the anthem begins.
And then let the pummelling begin!
There will be “Another Person in Wheelchair Pummeled” headlines all over the place. And shortly thereafter, justice breaks out throughout the land!
But I don’t have the guts to take this bold step for justice. I guess I’m too afraid of all those fans, intoxicated by beer and patriotism. I’ll need to dream up another role for people like me in this protest movement—people who don’t want to be pummelled, but still want to take a stand.
Mike Ervin is a writer and disability rights activist living in Chicago. He blogs at Smart Ass Cripple, "expressing pain through sarcasm since 2010."