A major firestorm broke out in the American professional sports world this past week. That fire took the form of athletes protesting by kneeling, or not showing up at all, at the playing of the United States national anthem prior to games.
The protests were allegedly in response to comments made by the President of the United States, Donald Trump, in regards to a small number of NFL players who had taken part in such protests during the league’s opening week.
Trump stated that NFL owners should fire any player who undertakes such a protest, which he (and many others) deemed disrespectful to our nation. Specifically, the President was quoted:
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
Various NFL teams responded by protesting the President’s comments in different ways. Some linked arms while the anthem was played. In some of those cases, team owners and other management personnel linked arms with their players in a show of solidarity.
In most cities, some of the players “took a knee”, knelt down in place, as “The Star-Spangled Banner” was played. In other cases, players simply sat on the bench.
In Oakland, rookie catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first, and thus far only, player in Major League Baseball to kneel during the anthem. Maxwell is the son of a United States Army veteran.
In Pittsburgh, the Steelers refused to even take the field, choosing to remain in their locker room while the anthem was played.
That action was taken, rather than standing with arms together, after a team vote which was reportedly very close. So they all remained in the locker room. Well, all except one player.
Alejandro Villanueva, a 6’9″, 320-lb offensive tackle, came and stood alone outside the tunnel which leads under the stands to the locker room. He stood honorably, at attention, with his hand over his heart as the anthem was played.
You see, Villanueva is not just a football player. He is also a former U.S. Army Ranger, a Bronze Star recipient, who served three tours in Afghanistan.
Last year, Villanueva spoke publicly about former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who set this anthem protest ball rolling when he knelt as it was played in San Francisco. Kaepernick was protesting what he feels is ongoing racial injustice in America.
Per Greg Norman of Fox News, Villanueva had been quoted by ESPN:
“I don’t know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that’s providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year…when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year.”
Villanueva had it absolutely right in my opinion. And I’ll go a step further. Not only is kneeling or sitting during the anthem not “the most effective way” to protest, but it is utterly disrespectful to our nation, and to the men and women who, like Villanueva, have served to protect us all.
You can disagree with the President of the United States all you like. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of NFL players did not support him to begin with, and did not vote for him. As a group, most are already biased in their opinions of him, his policies, and his opinions.
However, where they get it wrong is in thinking that the American flag and the national anthem somehow are symbolic of the Presidency. That protesting as the anthem is being played is a viable protest of the man and/or his office and statements.
If you want to protest the President, pick up a sign and go march outside the White House. If you don’t like something he said, get the leader of your labor organization to request a sit-down with the man, and express your views in that formal manner.
When you kneel at the game as the anthem is being played, you are disrespecting millions of fans around the country. Hundreds of thousands are standing in those NFL stadiums, many with their hands over the hearts, singing the song.
Many of those fans served their country in the armed forces, or their country and/or community in law enforcement. They put on a uniform and put their lives on the line so that our way of life can continue. So that people like those NFL players can enjoy the freedom to make millions of dollars a year playing a game.
Talk to fans who stand at sporting events as the national anthem is played, holding their hats and hands over their hearts. Ask them why they do it. You’ll get similar answers. Love of country. Respect for those who serve. Honor for having served themselves.
There are many problems in America, still the greatest nation in the history of this planet, as we begin to move through the 21st century. There will always be problems. And there will also always be political and social differences of opinion as to how to best address those problems.
But in the end, the bottom line for all of us should be love of our country. Appreciation of the beauty of our Constitution. Respect towards those who have in the past, and those who still do today, courageously battle on the front lines for the rest of us.
You show that love of country, that appreciation for American, and that respect for those who fight our battles in many ways. One small way is to stand respectfully to honor our flag as our anthem is played, whenever and wherever that happens, any time you are able to do so.
When you do anything other than that intentionally, you are doing nothing but showing disrespect. And you are doing nothing other than dishonoring yourself.
NFL players and any other athlete, entertainer, politician, or other U.S. citizen who doesn’t like something that is happening in this country, or something that someone says, should indeed feel welcome to passionately but peacefully protest – in appropriate ways, at appropriate venues.
While hundreds of thousands of fans “live” are being respectful to the flag and anthem, and millions more around the country are tuning in only to watch the athletes perform in their sport, that is not an appropriate time or venue.
To those who would argue “but this is the athlete’s platform, they have to take advantage”, I would say that is a cop out. Games are not an athlete’s platform. The game doesn’t belong to the players, it belongs to us all.
Those games are his or her stage, not their platform or podium. There is a difference. The paying public are their patrons. We should not be subjected to players personal social or political opinions.
If a player wishes to express his or her views in a pre- or post-game interview, and some writer, broadcaster, and publication wishes to give them that time, then that is an appropriate platform.
If a player, on their own time, wishes to pick up a picket sign and march in front of the White House, or their State House, that is fine. If a player wishes to call a press conference to speak on social issues, that is fine. Those are all forms of appropriate protest platforms.
Someone tried to argue to me today that when NFL or MLB players or other athletes wear pink to support the battle against cancer, or make other similar public gestures during games in support of charities, isn’t that them using their platform?
No, it is not. It is the player and organization using our platform to raise awareness, and possibly funding, to battle illness and disease. Are you trying to argue that there is someone out there who is offended by a battle against cancer? Ludicrous to even compare the two issues.
Now, if players believe that there is systemic racism in sports and American society, and wish to band together and all wear black bands, or patches, or whatever, then that is fine. It doesn’t offend any reasonable person.
But while you are wearing your pink wrist bands or cleats, or protesting with your black arm band, stand for your national anthem, and put your hand over your heart for your flag. Show America that we are all Americans, and no matter what issues may divide us, that bottom line will always remain the single most important thing that brings us together.
Honor America. Stand for the anthem. Put your hand and hat over your heart for the flag. If you can, sing the song. Those who want respect, give respect. It’s an idea that is as old as time, and one that we need to begin showing to one another, no matter who occupies the White House, or what they may say or what policies they may pursue.