About a week ago, a Salt Lake Tribune columnist, Gordon Monson, presented the scenario of what would happen if a Utah Jazz player kneeled during the National Anthem. There he said "the action-reaction would be fascinating and compelling to watch." But I’m here to say that I believe these players would be supported here in Utah.
In 1846, long before there was #SwatLakeCity, Temple Square, or even a farm in Utah, Mormon Pioneers in Illinois did something that many people screaming at Colin Kaepernick wish he would have done: LEAVE.
Many of the raging tempests thrown at Colin Kaepernick cite that, while he is free to exercise his 1st amendment rights, if he doesn’t like it leave the United States. If he doesn’t like it, get out. That is exactly what many Utah Jazz fans’ great grandfathers did—they got out. Mormon Pioneers actually picked up and left the United States and traveled all the way West to what was then Mexico.
These Mormon Pioneers had been persecuted in every location they settled as a result of religion. First it was the Northeast, then Missouri, then Illinois. They were persecuted because they presented something new. They were gaining followers and fast. They were building up fast settlements in the Frontier country. It was a class structure thing as well. A lot of these early Mormon converts were poor, immigrants from Europe, and didn’t align with the Christian values this nation were then founded on. They believed in a different version of God, they believed in prophets, and they had an additional "Bible".
There were targeted attacks on them by mobs, tar and feathering, and even a state wide extermination order by the state of Missouri. When in Nauvoo, Illinois (a city early Mormons founded and built up) they felt so threatened that they trained their own militia to protect their interests which raised tensions even further. These early Mormons even tried to have one of their own run for President to try to have someone in government represent their interests.
The final boiling point came when a group of their leadership comprising their prophet, his brother, and a few others were taken into custody in Illinois. These men where then murdered when a mob rushed the jail killing these Mormon men. The mob rationalized that these men didn’t deserve due process and a fair trial.
Then these early Mormons decided that they were leaving. They packed up everything they owned and left the United States, and in droves. Immigrants who were converted by Mormon missionaries would travel right through the United States to the northern part of the Mexico territory where the Mormons were settling.
This is the history of many Utah Jazz fans’ families. This complicated relationship with the United States and the ability to worship the "Almighty God according to the dictates of their conscience, and allow all men the same privilege[,] let them worship how, where, or what they may."
That belief seemed at odds with the statement written by that their murdered prophet Joseph Smith who wrote years before his death that: "We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law."
So what would happen if a Utah Jazz player were to kneel?
Would there be some outrage? Undoubtedly. Utah is a very conservative state whose 4th of July celebration is the one of legends. Though it is not ranked as one of the top recruiting states for the military (most likely because of its high volunteerism with missionaries and non-profits), it defends the flag with the same fervor that most do. It’s bred into the boy scout and cub scout programs that many in Utah participate in from a young age.
Having said that, those who are descendants from Mormon Pioneers should be well aware--as I am whose heritage is of that of the Browning family (heard of Browning rifle?)--of the tumultuous struggle it has been for their religion, from being one of the most despised groups in this country to a valued part of its fabric. They hold the flag in reverence with the knowledge that freedom and the right to worship for them had to be earned and, at a one time, abandoned. It required fleeing the country (only to have it enveloped around them again) to gain that ability to worship.
I, myself, am a descendant of a Mormon Pioneer and while visiting Mormon history sites in the eastern United States, it brought up a lot of mixed emotions. Part of those emotions is pride in my heritage. Another part is a bit of distaste and mistrust of the federal government. My descendants’ America was different that the rest of America during that era. For them, at least for a moment in time, America’s constitutional freedoms had ceased their efficacy with the murder of their leaders. They felt devoid of protection from their own government. Sound familiar?
This is why Utah Jazz fans could, surprisingly, be more supportive of a Utah Jazz player kneeling during the national anthem than most would anticipate. They might more readily acknowledge that even though we are able to enjoy all the privileges of our constitutional rights and the benefits that does not mean that all parties and minorities in this country get to do the same. After all, there were many people enjoying their constitutional freedoms in the 1830s while Mormons were not.
The movement that Kaepernick started is asking for the conversation to be brought up. That conversation is that the black community, and other minority communities, are being treated differently. There are men and women being shot by police without due process (some in front of their own children), there are communities that are underfunded and underprivileged, and there is a different America than the one most of us see.
When that America looks at the flag, they feel a mixed range of emotions. Does that flag even represent them right now?
By kneeling they are not dismissing this country, rather asking for the values that we attribute to our flag and anthem to be reflected in how we treat ALL of our citizens.
For Kaepernick and the #BlackLivesMatter movement, there is not a frontier to escape the pain of what is going on. Change is required, not retreat. So in order for the change to begin, the conversation can’t be hidden in the 3rd block of the news. It must be at the forefront of everyone’s attention.
That is why, at least for this writer, I will kneel with the Utah Jazz players that may choose to do so in Utah.
I will kneel because no one kneeled with my great great grandfather Browning in Illinois when his constitutional rights were violated.
I will kneel with you because no one in America said that forcing him away from his business in Nauvoo, IL and his home was the wrong thing to do. Let alone it being the 2nd time he had to leave everything to build again.
I will kneel with you because no one in America eased his burden when he traveled across the frontier of America and the Rockies in 1846 in which he lost many of his family to exposure.
I will kneel with you because if I deserve privilege, your communities deserve the same privilege.
I will kneel with you.