Well, here we go again.
Off we fly into another national hissy fit about something that really amounts to nothing, completely missing the point. Again looking to crush ants while elephants stomp thru our gardens. Meanwhile, innocent people die because someone’s god apparently decreed they should. And like good Americans determined not to be slackers and somehow found lagging behind, we kill one another.
But I’m not even going to get into the ugly and divisive political environment that pervades our nation and has deteriorated into a caustic soup that I am convinced has led this country into an “us versus them” mentality that threatens the very fabric of our society, nor the very real threat that ISIS and religious fanaticism represents to our way of life, even though I feel it is has played a large part in causing some of the issues we’re now having to deal with. That’s a column for another day.
No, today we’re going to talk about what used to be a source of fun and entertainment, the land where our heroes once reigned supreme: the sports world. And it seems the latest thing to get our collective undies in an uproar is San Francisco Forty-Niner quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision to make a “political statement” about the “oppression” that he feels exists in America by sitting or kneeling during the playing of the national anthem prior to NFL games. America’s response has ranged the full spectrum from support of the action to the burning of his jersey by fans to threats of boycotting games to alleged death threats.
While I am totally 100% against his action—I think it either blatantly silly, or a brilliant public relations move, I am also totally 100% in favor of his right to take it. Listen to the words of the very song he is protesting, or disrespecting as many might say: “O’er the land of the free.” That verse should be reflective of a nation that gives him the right to express himself; freedom of expression is one of the core principles upon which this country was founded.
Foremost, I believe that he has every right to do whatever he chooses, to display his thoughts on any matter in any way, as long as it is not physically disturbing or disrupting anyone else. And I truly value that right, because I have known men who put their lives on the line to preserve it for the generations to follow them. I’ve known men who flew B-29s off Tinian in the South Pacific, bombing Japan during World War II, who would look around the mess hall each morning before dawn and know that the odds were a dozen men or so they were sharing breakfast with would not be back for dinner that night, either shot down during bombing runs, or had planes too damaged to make the 1,500 mile return trip and were lost at sea when they went down in the Pacific. And they did this day after day after day. And I’ve worked with a gentleman who had a hole half a finger deep in a thigh where they field-dug Vietnam grenade shrapnel out of his leg, and to this day still has fragments you can feel in his bicep, fragments that had first passed thru the chest of the sergeant who had taken the brunt of the blast in order to save his platoon.
You better believe those men honor our nation’s flag and stand for the National Anthem.
So excuse me if I beg to differ when someone asserts that Mr. Kaepernick has taken a “brave” stance with his decision to use his multi-million dollar per year NFL “job” as a platform to express his political views. I tend to reserve words like “bravery” to use with regard to men such as I’ve just described, or former NFL star Pat Tillman who gave up his professional football career to join the military after 9/11, and later lost his life in the mountains of Afghanistan. Or sports stars like Jackie Robinson, who persevered thru untold instances of abuse of all types with class and dignity as he broke the color barrier in professional baseball. THAT, folks, is bravery.
And as for this latest protest, I don’t have a problem with the few Philadelphia Eagles who showed support of and and solidarity with Kaepernick by raising closed fists during the playing of the national anthem prior to Monday night’s NFL game. That’s their choice also. But I do think it looks pretty bad coming as it did just a few days after yet another individual flipped out, took a gun and went on a shooting spree, right there in the “City of Brotherly Love,” ambushing a police officer before shooting thru the open door of a bar and then into a random vehicle, killing one woman and badly injuring several other individuals, even taking and injuring a hostage, before he himself was cornered and killed by police.
What a world, eh? I bet the families of those victims are not nearly as concerned about a song as those Eagles players. I would imagine planning an unexpected funeral or visiting a family member recuperating from gunshot wounds re-prioritizes things in life pretty quickly.
Sadly, however, I fear it’s only going to get worse, because we all know that kids learn by watching how adults conduct themselves, how they behave and react to situations, what they do and don’t do. You did and I did, too. To a large extent, we’re all creatures of our environment. And to a large extent, we have failed our children.
Like the old Nike ad said, in our minds we wanted to, “Be like Mike.” So it’s not surprising that we’re now seeing high school footballers, in some cases entire teams, taking a knee, just like some of their professional “heroes,” during the playing of the national anthem, to also protest “social injustices.”
Nor I fear, is it surprising that just this past weekend a California college football player was charged with assault for striking a referee during a game, just as a California high school coach last year was charged for “siccing” two players on a referee, who was then blindsided by both players during a play for allegedly making bad calls. Or the 80-year old man in Beaver Falls, PA who assaulted a referee after a high school basketball game. Or the multitude of cases of Little League baseball parents who have been charged with offenses or banned from games for losing their temper and acting out against umpires or officials.
Such does not bode well for our future, folks. We’ve somehow forgotten to teach our kids something primary, something absolutely essential: regard for their fellow man, something as simple as “respect.” And as a result I’m beginning to feel like John Coffey in Stephen King’s, “The Green Mile”:
“I’m tired of people being ugly to each other. It feels like pieces of glass in my head.”
The sad truth is that there is still inequality in the world and in America. But that doesn’t have to breed hostility. We’re better than that; we have to be. We have to be tolerant and understanding of each other.
Maybe we shouldn’t worry so much about flags and anthems; they’re more personal to the individual anyway, and it’s OK for you to do your thing and I’ll do mine with regard to them. Maybe it’s more important that we teach our kids—and remind each other—to respect justice and humanity. Respect, for yourself, and more importantly, for others, is an essential aspect of civilized society. Lose that, and all is lost.
Respect. It may be more than our only hope, it may be our last one.