Barry Saunders

Two different ECU band protests, both worthy of our respect – Saunders

East Carolina celebrates after scoring during the second half of East Carolina's 70-41 victory over UNC at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, September 20, 2014.
East Carolina celebrates after scoring during the second half of East Carolina's 70-41 victory over UNC at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in Greenville, N.C., Saturday, September 20, 2014.

Hey, teachers, leave those kids alone ... Pink Floyd.

Aghast is what we should all be at the despicable display of intolerance on display at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium last Saturday when some East Carolina University marching band members chose to express themselves other than musically during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

For doing the most American thing one can do – standing up for their beliefs – they were pelted with harsh language, spit and a bottle.

Just a couple of days after Chancellor Cecil Staton expressed begrudging support for the rights of the students whose act of defiance evoked the crowd’s wrath, band director Bill Staub did a “Dean Wormer” (see the movie “Animal House”) and expressed unequivocal opposition to any further political displays during the band’s performances. In a statement with others, he called the students’ actions “hurtful to many in our Pirate family and disrespectful to our country.”

What a crock. What’s disrespectful to our country, our flag, to the U.S. Constitution is demanding mindless fealty and seeking to stomp out any dissenting expressions. There are countries where that flag flies, Bill, but this isn’t one – at least not yet.

It’s surprising that other school administrators, fans, even the irony-challenged general manager of a Fayetteville radio station that carries the team’s games have come down so hard on the students who chose to express their constitutionally guaranteed right of free expression. Yes, you read that right: the GM of a radio station opposes free speech so much that he announced he isn’t going to broadcast this week’s game.

Oy! Whether one agrees with their form of protest or the venue, you must acknowledge that the band members were simply carrying on an old American tradition – protesting. That also goes for Dylan Allen and Hunter Marketto, the two tuba players in the ECU band who unfurled the U.S. flag and held it aloft last Saturday.

Oh, so you didn’t see Marketto and Allen with Old Glory? That’s because all eyes and ire were focused on the 19 kneeling students.

Regardless of which protest got you riled or which one got you stoked, the students have every right to express themselves and should be lauded for being – as they say in the current lingo – “woke,” politically conscious. Just because they put on a uniform and march in unison doesn’t mean they all have to think in unison..

Rather than booing during the playing of the national anthem and, after the game, hocking loogies and hurling a bottle and racial epithets at the students as they left Dowdy-Ficklen, the fickle fans should have been cheering the patriotism displayed by the intrepid tuba-playing pair – and the courage and cause of those who knelt to protest police overreaction and the unnecessary violence toward unarmed black men that you act like you don’t see on your TV nightly.

The greatness of America was on display on that field as both sides expressed their views – opposing views – peacefully, yet continued marching in the same direction.

Marketto, 19, said Allen and he chose their own form of protest not to counter the kneeling “family members” – that’s what he called his fellow bandmates – but to highlight the First Amendment.

“We found out beforehand that they were going to do a protest, so we wanted to do something on our own,” Marketto, of Pikeville, told me Tuesday. He spoke freely, but First Amendment-fearin’ Staub never returned my calls. Hmmm.

“We wanted to be patriots in our own right,” Marketto said, “but at the same time, we wanted to stand for the First Amendment rights of our brothers and sisters” who chose to kneel. “One of the main details that is getting lost in all this is that the ones who knelt were 110 percent behind Dylan and me, just as we were 110 percent behind them.”

That may be why the foulmouthed, fomented fans were undiscriminating in choosing their targets after the game. “We were met with violence when we left the stadium,” he said. “We had to wait and get a police escort. The whole band walked out together, and some fans stayed behind, waiting for the band. That’s when Dylan and I decided to unfurl the flag again, and we carried that flag all the way from Dowdy-Ficklen to where we put our instruments up. ... That entire walk there they were yelling racial epithets and calling us names. ... One guy ran up to Dylan and me and said, ‘You are not worthy to carry that flag.’ There was a bottle thrown at me. It hit me in my back.”

Marketto said that even if fans disagree with the band members who knelt, the musicians deserve to be treated with respect.

“Just because you disagree with them, you don’t have to hate them,” he said. Then, noting the hours of band practice to “add atmosphere” to the games, Marketto said, “The way Pirate Nation acted toward us – quite honestly, Pirate Nation broke my heart Saturday.” I could tell he wasn’t lying.

Pirate Nation, y’all owe the band an apology – unless, that is, you want to live in a country where the only kind of political expression allowed is the one with which you agree.

With apologies to Don McLean, here – in a little ditty I call “The Day Pirate Pride Died” – is what happened. Maestro, hit it:

And the band knew if they had their chance

They could make those people dance

And maybe they’d be happy for a while.

But some band members took a knee

to protest police brutality

And before you could hum

“O’ say can you see”

The fans had lost their minds. ...

As the band members tried to leave the field

and hoped that they would not be killed

they saw a mob gathered on the hill

the day Pirate Pride died. ...

And when they ran away in fright

for exercising their First Amendment right

I saw Putin laughing with delight

the day Pirate Pride died.

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