Before this past Sunday, fewer than a dozen NFL players had symbolically clasped hands with Colin Kaepernick in protest of a cause that has been largely lost in all of the noise — what at the time seemed to be an epidemic of young, unarmed blacks dying in confrontations with police officers.
After President Trump, who dishonored the flag, national anthem and this country when he dodged service in the Vietnam War, used Twitter and profanity to encourage NFL owners to fire players who took a knee during the playing of the national anthem, the ranks of those on bended knee swelled in defiance.
The nation now descends further into two camps, those who side with the NFL players, and those who believe they are being disrespectful to the country.
What is missing is empathy; this nation would benefit immeasurably if more people would at least try to step out of their shoes and into another’s.
We will attempt to duck the crossfire and take refuge in a third camp — recognizing the players’ right to protest, but wishing they would pick another place and time to do so, especially since the protest is proving itself ineffective as few are talking about what Kaepernick was attempting to spotlight and perhaps remedy.
Instead, those who say they are offended portray the NFL players as entitled, overpaid and unappreciative of all that this country has bestowed upon them. That ignores a lot, including that the players are simply cashing in on what the free market provides, there are fewer than 2,000 players in NFL and it was a lot of sweat that got them there, careers are short and the injury risk high, and many use their fame and fortune for the betterment of their communities.
Among those walking the walk is our own Vonta Leach, a 10-year veteran of the NFL and Super Bowl champion who said he would have also taken a knee on Sunday were he still suiting up.
He also said this: “It’s not about the flag, or national anthem. The social injustice that is going on in this country for African-Americans, minorities — all of the above — it isn’t right.”
And this: “I respect people in the military every day. But the people that gave us the right to stand also gave us the right to sit.”
And this: “America is a great nation, but we have a lot of flaws that need to be dealt with. Until we as a people start standing up to the inequality, we’re going to go backward instead of forward.”
As a newspaper, we are fond of freedom of speech, and remind everyone that there is a reason it’s protected by the very First Amendment.
Apple pie isn’t more American than protest. The impetus for the establishment of the world’s greatest democracy was the tossing of tea into the Boston Harbor, and peaceful protests in the 1960s helped mold America into a more benevolent and equitable society.
Patriotism doesn’t come wrapped in a flag or in a cliche on a bumper sticker. It isn’t self-ascribed, but is earned through actions that go beyond standing up, placing hand over heart and singing along.
Patriotism is exercising the liberties that have been gifted upon us to try to make America great, and that includes making it a more welcoming and comfortable place for all its citizens.
NFL players, by taking a knee, are using their constitutionally-given rights to try to correct what they see as a social injustice. It is perfectly American to disagree with their argument and how it is expressed, but un-American to try to deny them either.