The Crusader Newspaper Group

Oh say can you sit?

Crusader Staff Report

It was time to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at the Gary Common Council meeting on June 5.

While most of the elected officials stood up and put their hands over their hearts, Councilwoman LaVetta Sparks-Wade sat this one out.

Days after President Donald Trump disinvited Super Bowl champions, the Philadelphia Eagles, from a celebration at the White House, Sparks-Wade remain seated during the Pledge of Allegiance. She joined a chorus of Black athletes and citizens across the country who have sent a message to Trump.

“I think it is a slap in the face for those who died to protect our rights,” she said. “It’s the First Amendment…people should be able to do so (refuse to stand at attention during the anthem) if they choose.”

Colleagues supported Sparks-Wade in her decision not to stand during the ceremony.

Sparks-Wade said she opposes the way Trump rescinded an invitation to the Eagles because several team members publicly oppose new National Football League regulations that forbid players from kneeling during the singing of the national anthem. As an option, players can remain in the locker room during the patriotic ceremony, but the policy has been criticized and condemned as an attack on one’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Spark-Wade’s move came one day after a diverse group of lawmakers in Chicago sent a letter to Chicago Bears’ owner George McCaskey expressing their disapproval of Trump and the new NFL policy.

“It is disappointing that your franchise voted to silence the players you employ during this important national dialogue,” said Congresswoman Robin Kelly (D-2nd). “I’m an NFL fan, but the league’s new anthem policy is both disappointing and concerning. We have an American institution that is the beneficiary of millions in taxpayer dollars; actively restricting the expression of the First Amendment,” said Congresswoman Kelly. “I hope that a meeting with the McCaskey family will constructively address player and fan concerns about free speech and feeling safe to speak out in our communities about the issue of police brutality.”

In the letter, the lawmakers highlighted the Chicago Bears’ long history of working toward greater inclusion in the league, including working to lift the ban of African- American players.

“The Halas-McCaskey family has a storied role in the history of this game and in American culture. George Halas was one of the first league officials to work to convince NFL coaches to lift the ban on black players in 1939 in his attempt to sign Kenny Washington of UCLA.  That was a progressive business stand, and 80 years later, you too, have the ability to take a similar progressive business stand.”

Trump and opponents of kneeling during the anthem believe the acts are disrespectful to military veterans and those who died serving their country.

With Indiana being one of the most conservative states in America, questions remain whether Spark-Wade’s action will draw a backlash from Republican lawmakers. The state currently is part of the lawsuit to sue Gary for its Welcome City ordinance, which lawmakers say violates Indiana’s law regarding prohibition on sanctuary cities.

While Trump and supporters of the new NFL policy argue they believe players who protest during the singing of the National Anthem are disrespectful to the military and veterans, Sparks-Wade said she believes those same people fought (and some died) to preserve rights that include free speech.

Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said she respected Sparks-Wade’s stance.

“The president is just wrong in the way he handled this,” the mayor said. “One of the reasons we have had people fighting (in wars) is to protect our free speech.”

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