Famed U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin shared a tribute to the Stars and Stripes on Sunday amid a brewing debate in pro sports and politics over whether national anthem protests are disrespectful to the American flag.
“Every morning, I rise and hoist my American flag on my balcony,” Aldrin wrote on Twitter. “Old Glory serves as a welcome reminder that we're always striving to become a more perfect union. Today and every day, let us remember all the men and women who've fought valiantly to defend it. #flagday2020”
Aldrin, 90, is best known for piloting the Apollo 11 Lunar Module in 1969. Aldrin and fellow astronaut Neil Armstrong were the first two humans in history to walk on the moon.
Aldrin’s tribute drew a mixed response on Twitter, with some users interpreting it as a challenge to kneeling protests during the national anthem. The debate over national anthem protests has reemerged in recent days after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody prompted demonstrations against racial injustice around the country.
“Imagine fighting to defend a piece of cloth, but you can't fight to defend your fellow countrymen,” one Twitter user wrote in response to Aldrin’s post.
Player national anthem protests began in 2016, when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt to protest police brutality. Athletes across several sports have adopted the protest in the years since.
The protests have proven to be divisive among Americans. Proponents say they are peaceful demonstrations meant to raise awareness of racial injustice in the U.S. Critics, including President Trump, say they are disrespect to the flag and military veterans who have fought to defend the country.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was widely criticized earlier this month after he said he disagreed with kneeling protests. He later apologized for his remarks.
Brees’ apology prompted a response from Trump, who famously called on NFL owners to fire any player who knelt during the 2017 season.
“I am a big fan of Drew Brees. I think he’s truly one of the greatest quarterbacks, but he should not have taken back his original stance on honoring our magnificent American Flag,” Trump wrote on Twitter. "OLD GLORY is to be revered, cherished, and flown high...”
“We should be standing up straight and tall, ideally with a salute, or a hand on heart,” Trump added. “There are other things you can protest, but not our Great American Flag - NO KNEELING!”
National anthem protests are set to be a recurring topic of debate as sports return to play from the coronavirus pandemic. U.S. Soccer said last week that it would repeal a rule that required its players to stand for the anthem.
In response, Trump said he would no longer watch U.S. soccer teams play.