This weekend, the world watched millionaire players and billionaire owners protest the national anthem, speak out against the President, or hide in the locker room. Monday, we saw a decorated Army Ranger who felt compelled to apologize for standing to honor his nation. WTF is wrong with this country?

In the span of a week we have jumped at ludicrous speed from a few guys kneeling to protest social injustice to a full-blown culture war.  The internet flooded with videos of self-righteous fans burning their season tickets and team jerseys. Patriots’ fans booed their team at home – not like in the 70s and 80s when the team deserved it.  Last week, they booed before kickoff.

It’s not about Kaepernick

None of this is new. This didn’t start President Trump tweeting something stupid and divisive. It didn’t start with a bad second-string quarterback in San Francisco taking a knee last year. Anthem protests have been around of years.

Most readers are too young to remember when US Track and Field Olympians gave a Black Power salute during the anthem after receiving their medals in 1968. Some may recall the NBA suspending Denver Nuggets guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in 1996 for refusing to stand for the anthem.

Tommie Smith and John Carlo’s iconic protest came at the height of the civil rights movement and in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination.  The difference between Rauf and Kaepernick is that Rauf was still a legitimate player in the NBA at the time. He was run out of Denver at the end of that season and was out of the NBA entirely shortly thereafter. Don’t forget – Kaepernick voided his own contract and chose to leave SF at the end of last season.

Is his activism a factor in why he’s still unemployed? Almost certainly. Is it the reason? In NFL terms, it’s less probable than not. Back-up QBs should be inexpensive and neither be seen nor heard. Everyone recognizes that that isn’t Kaepernick.

Enough with the fake outrage

I have attended hundreds of professional sporting events in more than 20 different cities. I have overpaid for nachos and beer in 16 different MLB parks alone.  Rarely have I been impressed with how fans honor America while the song plays.

Across the country, in all major sports, fans ignore the anthem as they buy beer, make their way to their seats, talk with friends, or update social media. They keep their hats on, video the singer, and take selfies. Other than the ballpark at Arlington, I can’t remember attending a sporting event that suspended concession sales during the anthem. God Bless Texas.

I graduated from that same little trade school on the Hudson as Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva. I served more than 23 years in the Army and deployed five times. I’ve had friends come home in caskets under the flag. It means something to me. I will always stand in silence for the anthem and will smack my kids if they so much as sneeze before it’s finished.


Symbols and Rights

This fake controversy isn’t about disrespecting Veterans. The soldiers and friends I and others lost in the service to this country represented diversity racially and ideologically as any NFL locker room. They didn’t die for the flag or the anthem. They served, sacrificed, and died for their fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines.

The flag and the anthem are not totems to bow down to, but rather symbols of the ideals of this country. Those include the idea that all men are created equal, have the inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and to free speech. These represent the very things for which people are protesting. You are not a good American if you claim to love our nation’s symbols but not the exercise of someone’s right’s because you disagree with their message.

I am offended by the jerk who keeps his hat on, usually backwards, and won’t shut up during the anthem. That’s disrespectful. Players using the opportunity to make a peaceful statement about social injustice – whether I agree with them or not – doesn’t bother me at all. For 241 years Veterans have fought for them to have that right, it would be hypocritical for us to ask them not to exercise it.

Easy Solution

Americans used to believe in the market place of ideas – that everyone could exercise their right to free speech, that good arguments would win and bad ones would lose. Now, as a nation, we seem to have lost the intellectual courage to tolerate diverse opinions.  We are so threatened by people who don’t believe exactly like us that we demand they be silenced. The left has done that on college campuses and the right is doing it now in NFL stadiums.

We have two simple solutions to our current national distraction. First, instead of attacking these players we could seek to emulate them. Every team in the NFL has players from every race, religion, and political ideology.  Yet, somehow, they’re not killing one another in the locker room.  Players like Devon McCourty, Duron Harmon, and others have protested during the nation anthem for more than a year.  Kraft, Belichick, and Brady all have relationships with President Trump.  And yet, somehow, these two different groups have good relationships with one another. How shockingly adult of them.

Second, we could just stop playing the national anthem at sporting events. Don’t pretend that it mattered to you before people started kneeling. It probably didn’t.