A Warrior’s Response to the NFL Flag Protests

Veteran’s Day is coming up…I’ve been asked this question so many times, I think this is the best way for me to respond in writing to the recent issue of protesting the flag. I don’t claim to speak for anyone else in the military or for the nation.  This is just thoughts from a patriot and someone who is passionate about my country.  Here are my thoughts on the NFL players and other professional athletes who are protesting during our National Anthem:

Something is broken in America

Something’s wrong in America.  As a man who has shed blood, sweat and tears over my country, this type of display breaks my heart. I wish we lived in a perfect country where no injustice existed. I wish there was never a child who had to go to sleep tonight with a father in prison or a parent who is addicted to opioids.  I wish that no woman ever had to fear being raped or no child had to be taught to avoid becoming a victim of human trafficking in this country.  I wish that every man was judged by the content of his character rather than the color of his skin in America today.  These public displays remind me that something is not right below the surface of our nation.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe that America is the greatest nation on earth! I have personally seen the way people in the rest of the world live, and I have not found another country on earth that offers the unparalleled opportunities and unprecedented freedoms that Americans have as citizens of this great nation. Maybe that’s why my heart aches when I see these protests.  There is no way to bury your head in the sand. These protests remind us that–as good as it is in America–we still have a long way to go as a nation.

I don’t understand

I have lived most of my life with men and women from every race and ethnicity in America.  One of my greatest privileges as a warrior was to serve with the best people this country had to offer. The strength of America’s military is not found in its technology or its tactics.  The greatness of American warriors rests in the fact that they come from every background.   The fabric of our national security is the melting pot of American society.  This diversity also makes the tapestry of our military.  God forbid the day ever comes when only one small section of our society carries the mantle of responsibility for defending this nation.

However, I’m a white man in America.  I realize I grew up with privileges and opportunities others didn’t have simply because of the color of my skin.  I never had to experience the kind of fears a black man in America experiences when pulled over by the police.  I didn’t have to wonder if I would get racially profiled because I was of middle eastern decent and looked Muslim. I didn’t have to deal with someone assuming that I was an undocumented illegal alien while living as a teenager in central Texas.  I never had to experience the frustration of being a woman in America doing the same job for less pay than her male counterpart.  These are aspects of life in America that I have never personally experienced.

I’m confused about what life is like for the underprivileged and underrepresented in our country.  Rather than ignoring the issues of race and equality, I work all the harder to understand them.  Although these protests confuse me, they also drive me to understand what it feels like to be an American from the perspective of a racial or ethnic minority.

That’s why I don’t use the “when are they going to get over the cry of racism” language in my vocabulary.   Because frankly, I’ll never know what “it” feels like from “their” perspective. I refuse to use that kind of insensitive and divisive language personally.  In fact, I don’t use the “us and them” language at all.  I refuse to allow the protests of the American flag to become an “us versus them” issue.  It’s an issue we all need to figure out as a nation!

If we are all members of one human race, and we are citizens of the same country, I owe it to my fellow Americans to understand what it feels like to be a citizen from the perspective of the ethnic or racial minority.  If I’m going to find common ground with others, it starts with understanding each other.  I believe I have the responsibility to take the lead and begin the conversations about racial equality.

I believe in freedom of speech

I am a strong proponent of the privilege of freedom of speech.  If Americans deserve the ability to freely express their opinions, then I have no choice but to strongly support the right to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem.  I believe in free speech so much, that I strongly support the right to stop watching the game when the honor due our nation is being hijacked for political purposes. To those who are really offended by the protest during the National Anthem, I recommend that they stop buying tickets and stop watching the games, or be willing to get involved and do something about the problems in our country.  Sitting around on cable media outlets and pontificating about the athletes or the issues in our country has yet to accomplish any lasting change in our nation.

I would like to remind every reader what you are seeing when someone protests the National Anthem is freedom in action.  The fact that government officials aren’t throwing professional athletes into concentration camps for their actions is a testimony to the freedoms of our nation.  I dare say no athlete who publicly protested the flag drove home wondering if they would find themselves in the gulag or executed for their actions the next day.  If that were the case, I think you’d see a lot less protesting.  These public displays are testaments to our unprecedented freedoms as Americans.

I even support President Trump’s right to make divisive comments that inflame this issue.  He is the leader of this free nation.  Even the President has the freedom to use social media to create discord, rather than lead these players and the nation to find the solution to these problems.  These are the benefits and the consequences of living in a country with freedom of speech.

I wish the NFL players could see the view from a different huddle

I’m certain I have a different perspective than most professional athletes when the American Flag is stretched across the field of an NFL stadium and the National Anthem is played.  I can’t get out of my mind the images of Old Glory draped across the coffins of Americans from every race and social class that purchased the right for these players to make this kind of public protest.

There is a huddle that I think most of these NFL players have never experienced.  I’m convinced that if they saw the view from this huddle, they might have second thoughts about protesting our flag in the future.  This huddle happens far too often at Arlington National Cemetery and other burial places around our country.

I wish they could see the honor and the precision when the flag is folded and the 21-gun salute is fired on behalf of a fallen warrior.  Maybe the emotion of this ceremony would touch the hearts of these players.  If they ever looked into the tear-soaked eyes of the 25-year-old widow with three children huddled around her legs, I’m pretty sure the problems of these high-paid athletes would start to seem less important.  This is the huddle that I think most of these players are missing.  If they could look into the face of a child who just lost a parent or a spouse who just lost a mate, I think this huddle might change their perspective. When a military official presents the American Flag “on behalf of a grateful nation”, those words burn into the human soul and the American Flag, folded into a triangle, takes on a different meaning.  This is the greatest honor our nation can present to a grieving spouse or parent.  Maybe the scene from this huddle would change the perspective of a player in the NFL.

I want to remind sports “heroes” of something

Here’s the last thing I’d like to remind these professional athletes and sports fans around the nation.  I don’t understand why our society elevates professional athletes to superstardom.  This drives me crazy!  I know many of these athletes give back of their time and money to charitable causes, but in the grand scheme of things, they really only catch a ball or chase a puck for a living. So why should America give this much political and national attention to men and women who get paid to do what children do on the playground?

Professional athletes are the heroes of millions of people in America.  I’m afraid that not all professional athletes deserve this honor.  In contrast, warriors are my heroes.  I look up to the brave men and women who care so deeply about our way of life that they have sacrificed to protect what we hold dear.  The Americans who are willing to give their last full measure of devotion to defend our nation should be considered heroes by all Americans. If you’re going to take the role of hero, you must also be willing to accept the responsibility of living the moral life worthy of this honor.  Along with the responsibility comes the willingness to sacrifice to make this nation a better place to live for all Americans.

If America, with all her great freedoms, still has problems with equality, I’m convinced humanity can never achieve paradise on this side of Heaven.  So, while I am ready to continue to put my passion into making this nation a greater place to live for people of all races and ethnicities, I stopped hoping to create an American paradise a long time ago.  I will simply settle for leaving my country better than I found it after my death.

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