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Royalty and the NFL: two topics that you would not, perhaps, expect to find mentioned in the same sentence, let alone a blog post. And yet here they are.
They have, of course, both been in the news over the past few days. There has been the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. And there has been the announcement that the NFL will fine teams whose players “take a knee” during the playing of the US national anthem.
But there is something that connects these two events much more than this coincidence. And that something makes it clear that, despite the pontifications of the NFL and ignorant commentators like Meghan McCain, “taking a knee” is not a sign of disrespect. In fact, as anyone who knows anything about royalty knows, it’s actually quite the reverse.
Part of the problem lies, I suspect, in the ridiculous phrase, “taking a knee.” Which knee? Whose knee? And where is it being taken?
Of course, the phrase only has real meaning in the context of American football, when it is used to describe a play by a quarterback to stop the game clock. The appropriate English in all other contexts is simply “kneeling.”
So why isn’t the quarterback’s play described as “kneeling”?
Now that’s another phrase I didn’t think I’d ever write. I’m not sure that royalty has much relevance in most contexts, though I have noticed that the British royal family seems to be of much greater interest to Americans than to most Brits.
In this particular instance, however, royalty is indeed germane. Because what is the most widely accepted means of showing deference to a royal personage while in his or her presence?
Bowing? Well, that’s just your everyday deferential. For a show of real deference, more akin to reverence, one should kneel.
When a man receives a knighthood, for example, or a woman becomes a dame, he or she must kneel to show allegiance to the monarch before being touched on both shoulders with a sword. Just standing there doesn’t cut it, and nor does a bow. Only kneeling will do.
It should now be clear why an NFL player is never described as “kneeling” when he stoops to stop the clock. It’s just not manly enough.
“Kneeling” would suggest not a tactical decision designed to boost the next play, but cowering in the face of a mighty opponent. And we can’t have cowering and reverence in the NFL, can we? Except, of course, towards the flag.
So here’s an idea: let’s use the correct verb!
Then it’s clear that a sportsman (or woman) who kneels during the playing of the national anthem is actually showing much greater respect than those who stand. And several orders of respect more than the NHL goalies who insist on wandering about while it plays.
Ever watched them, Meghan McCain?