When I was a political staffer in Ontario, the Protocol Office was run by a brilliant and fabulous man, Ernesto Feu.
He had a dramatic accent and an exceedingly generous nature; calling him to ask a question on provincial, national or international protocol was always a delightful experience.
“Thank you for calling! I am so glad you called! What can I do to help you?” Ernesto’s enthusiasm about protocol was more than impressive; it was inspiring. If the purpose of protocol is to make people feel comfortable, Ernesto Feu was the living embodiment of it.
I called him once to ask about the protocol around the placement of flags on a stage when an international statesman visited Ontario. He carefully detailed for me the exact placement of the flags on the stage so that we would position them as a visiting dignitary would expect. He even sketched it out and faxed it over to me.
I recall, also, unpacking a set of Canadian flags at an event in Ottawa; the young event planner working with me burst into tears when she saw how wrinkled the flags were. She ran out to borrow a hand steamer and was frantically steaming the wrinkles out of the flags right up until the moment the Cabinet Ministers approached the stage.
All of which leads me to the events of the past few weeks, with NFL ball players “taking a knee” during the American national anthem and the flags waving while it is performed.
That’s one thing, I get it, they wanted to protest and opted to take advantage of the attention afforded them by the playing of the national anthem and the veneration of the flag at an NFL game to make the biggest splash possible.
While that has been hard enough to swallow, what’s even harder is listening to their spokespersons on multiple media appearances denying the fact that these actions are in anyway disrespectful.
“We love America! We love the flag! We respect our military!” one kept crying on FoxNews last night. He seemed oblivious to the fact that his words and his actions were in complete conflict.
Earth to the NFL: there are protocols which are internationally agreed upon, acknowledged and accepted, and they have been for centuries. It’s called “civilization.” Some protocols are actually written down and codified; others are only traditional but equally important.
If you feel you must show disrespect for the basic tenets of any nation’s most cherished traditions, at least have the courage of your convictions and admit that’s what you’re doing.
Disrespecting the flag, the anthem and the military and then hoping to get some kind of credit by claiming you love all these traditions is not just an insult to these symbols; it’s an insult to our intelligence. I’m sure there is some kind of protocol, codified or traditional, which states “Do not imply that your fellow citizens are complete gullible imbeciles.”
Ernesto Feu, God rest his gracious soul, must be rolling over in his grave.