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Here we go again. For the third consecutive season players from the National Football League (NFL) will be taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and the oppression towards African Americans that they believe exists in our country. The protest has even spread far beyond the fields of the NFL. Recently, in Haddam, Connecticut, Selectwoman Melissa Schlag, a Democrat, took a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance before several Board Meetings in protest of the policies of President Donald Trump.
I, however, do feel that these protests are disrespectful towards the National Anthem, the Flag, and the Pledge of Allegiance. That disrespect extends to the Military, and those who have fought and died in defense of our great Nation. As an Army Soldier during my tour in Afghanistan I had the privilege of wearing the Flag on my right sleeve. After nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond, there are thousands of Servicemembers who have returned home in a coffin draped by that same Flag. They leave many Gold Star Families who received a three-cornered Flag at their funeral. To many, the Flag and Anthem are a lot more than a piece of cloth and a song. To many of us who survived the wars, they are symbols that represent a set of ideals and values that we were all willing to risk our lives for.
Symbols matter. The raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima mattered. The photo of the New York City Fire Fighters raising the Flag at Ground Zero on September 11, 2001 mattered. On April 17, 2013, the Boston Bruins hosted the first sporting event after the Boston Marathon bombing. The suspects were still at large, and the city was living on edge. When the iconic Rene Rancourt began singing the Anthem the crowd took over and sang the entire song in unison. It was an incredibly strong and healing moment in Boston history. That Anthem mattered, and I’m confident nobody was taking a knee that night.
The Flag certainly meant something for Sergeant William Carney. SGT Carney was an African American born into slavery and eventually emigrated to New Bedford after being granted his freedom. When the Civil War broke out he joined the Union Army and was attached to Company C, of the 54th Massachusetts Colored Infantry Regiment, the African-American unit depicted in the movie Glory. During the historic battle of Fort Wagner, South Carolina, Carney suffered serious gunshot wounds to his head, leg, and hip, but showed bravery when he refused to let the American Flag touch the ground after his unit’s color guard was wounded. For his bravery, Carney became the first African-American awarded the Medal of Honor; our Nation’s highest and most prestigious military decoration.
This leaves me to the question of why do people like Selectwoman Schlag follow the lead of NFL players? In recent years the NFL players have included alleged murderers, child abusers, dog abusers, women beaters, and gun violators. These are not the type of people whom I would want to mimic. I would prefer to honor the legacy of Sergeant Carney.
The NFL owners will foolishly, and unsuccessfully, try to manage the situation all while profiting off the patriotism of its fanbase. This past offseason the owners, and Commissioner Roger Goodell, attempted to adjudicate the issue with a rule that would force players who protest to stay in the locker room while the Anthem is played. Oppressing those who feel oppressed will not work. It will only embolden their cause and their will to protest more. The players are merely exercising their Constitutional Right to Free Speech. But just because you have the right to do something doesn’t make you right. The same can be said to those who parade around with Nazi Swastikas. They have the right to do so, but they are not right. In fact, that one was settled in 1945. While we’re at it you can put away the Confederate Flags. That was settled in 1865.
Who are the owners to tell anyone what to do? I guarantee you that they were not motivated by the courage of their convictions, but rather their profits and the bottom line. This is the same league who charged the Department of Defense to have the American Flag on the field during the Anthem and to recognize Servicemembers in the Paid Patriotism scandal in 2015. This is the same league that has faced scrutiny for selling merchandise every November in their Salute to Service campaign around Veterans Day and only giving a small amount to charity. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, has become a leader in the opposition of kneeling. He has proclaimed that any Cowboy who kneels will be cut from his team. Yet, Jones, the patriot poser in charge, has also been caught on video not taking his hat off and talking during the National Anthem.
Jones is not the only part-time patriot with a checkered history. Dan Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins, has been accused of forcing Redskin cheerleaders to go on trips with sponsors and act as escorts. In 2014 Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of illegal narcotics while also having nearly $30,000 in cash hidden in a laundry bag. Jerry Richardson, former owner of the Carolina Panthers, was accused of workplace misconduct, sexual harassment, and racism, which forced him to sell the team this year. Last year Houston Texans owner Bob McNair was forced to apologize when he claimed that the “inmates were running the prison” while talking about this issue. These are not the type of people who should be dictating how to behave, and certainly should not be called patriots.
My answer? It’s all about respect. The National Anthem, the Flag, and the Pledge of Allegiance mean nothing if people do not know what they represent. Teams and players should visit hospitals run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs to see that the price of freedom is not free. The New England Patriots have two private planes and can travel anywhere. Visit Normandy, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, or Arlington National Cemetery. Do something to honor the legacy of Pat Tillman; the former Arizona Cardinal who declined a lucrative contract to become an Army Ranger and was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2004.
The players can do their part too. Use their social media platforms and interviews to raise awareness for their causes. Patriots safety Devin McCourty co-authored an op-ed in the Boston Globe with owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft about juvenile justice. Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals has donated time and money to the Boys and Girls Club. Players from the Baltimore Ravens, Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Patriots, among others, have gone on ride alongs with local police. Many players have started equality funds and donated money to youth football leagues. These are all great things and we should focus more on them. Selectwoman Melissa Schlag could learn a thing or two from these players.
- Kyle Toto is a Combat Veteran and host of WRKO's Sound Off which airs every Saturday from 5-6:00 PM.