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Best of 2021 #2: Gwen Berry Illustrates What Is Best, Not Worst About America

December 30, 2021

Every writer knows that controversy generates interest. And this story certainly stirred up controversy. My point is that America is great because we can make space for our dissenters.


You’ve seen the picture. Gwen Berry, the silver medal winner in the Hammer Throw at the US Olympic trials turns away as the National Anthem is played. Horrible, right? Disgraceful!

I recently saw a Facebook post calling for anyone who disrespects the flag being banned from representing the United States in the Olympics.

I think that’s a horrible, terrible idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a flag guy. I’m an Eagle Scout. I mounted an American flag on my grandkids’ playset. I own two other flags that I display on holidays. My daughter and son-in-law are active duty Army. I stand for the flag, proudly. I volunteer with an organization, Follow The Flag, that hangs the largest free-flying American flag in the world across a canyon in Utah every Fourth of July.

I love the flag and what it stands for. Did you know that the flag should always be on a speaker’s right? I once explained to a bailiff that the flag in the courtroom was on the wrong side of the judge. The next time we arrived for court the flag was moved to the correct side.

So, you would think that I would be first to condemn those who disrespect the flag. Especially, by someone wanting to represent my country and my flag at the Olympics. You’d be wrong.

Did you know that it used to be a tradition during the Olympic opening ceremonies for the flag bearer for each country to dip their flag to the country’s ruling monarch? We don’t do that anymore. In fact, we didn’t do it for very long. In 1908, flag bearer Ralph Rose, a shotputter, refused to dip the American flag to the British King in London. (There’s no record of him saying, “This flag dips to no earthly king,”)

Rose received a lot of criticism around the world. He actions were viewed as an example of “ugly Americanism.”

The flag did dip a couple of times in future Olympics. But, Berlin was not one of those times.

Then, in 1936, the US Olympic committee made it official. The American flag would never again dip to honor a foreign dignitary. Did the world think we were ugly Americans? Maybe. But, you know what? I don’t care.

I don’t care if the entire world condemned us for refusing to dip our flag to honor kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers of other countries. I like the fact that we value our flag, and what it represents more than being polite to other countries.

That would seem to contradict my defense of Gwen Berry. It doesn’t.

Our country values, or should value, our freedoms above all else. Gwen Berry is expressing her freedom of speech, her freedom of expression. And while I wouldn’t personally disrespect the flag, part of what makes America the greatest country in the world is that I have the freedom to disrespect the flag if I choose. And so does Gwen Berry.

Suppose we did have a rule that athletes had to be respectful to the flag and the Anthem to be included on the Olympic team? Suppose that Gwen Berry had to choose between competing in the Olympics and exercising her rights? What would YOU choose if the choice was yours? Would you accept fame, glory and financial rewards in exchange for giving up just a little of your freedom?

It’s a tough choice. And as an American it’s not one you should have to make. And it’s not one that Gwen Berry should have to make.

Do you know who does have to make those choices? Citizens of countries like North Korea, China, Iran. Countries where everyone is patriotic because to not be means your life becomes dangerous.

So, you will not find me advocating any rules requiring people, any people to act patriotic. Americans rights should always be protected. I will stand for the flag, but I will also fiercely defend your right to not stand.

I would hope you do the same for me.

Stay safe

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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