This isn’t about the military.
That’s the message that has been lost in the media firestorm that President Trump reignited this past weekend, saying that NFL owners should fire players for kneeling during the national anthem. He also called those players a name that may be considered shocking and disrespectful if not for the source.
Not only is this not about the military now, as many more players have become inspired to display increasing images of nonviolent protest, but it was never about the military. The actual act of kneeling — the act that the President and others have voiced opposition towards — was decided on by a veteran as something that would draw attention to societal injustices while still showing respect for American men and women in uniform.
Colin Kaepernick, the quarterback most responsible for the contentious debate taking place, started his act of defiance by remaining seated on the players’ bench during the pregame anthem. Unsure about his own method, he decided to talk it out with fellow NFL player Nate Boyer. A former Green Beret and a long snapper for the Seattle Seahawks, Boyer suggested kneeling as an alternative because it was an act that showed more humility.
Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave to display their respect, Boyer said, so that might seem like a more appropriate action that can still bring attention to a cause that needs it.
So those who take issue with Kaepernick’s actions, and now the actions of a growing number of players, owners and team officials, are offended by an action suggested by an incredibly thoughtful and cerebral Green Beret.
Kauai has many military families, active and retired. My grandfather was an American soldier during World War II, taking a bullet in Europe fighting against fascism. Their sacrifices, discipline and willingness to put themselves in harm’s way should be appropriately honored and remembered always.
But they should not be used as pawns to score some cheap political points. Conflating the American flag and anthem solely with our military not only unnecessarily narrows the scope of this country, but it diminishes what America is really about. It was a nation created in the hopes of escaping tyranny and highlighting personal freedoms.
When I watch the Olympic Games and an athlete has the privilege of hearing his or her country’s anthem played during the medal ceremony, the feeling of pride naturally exudes from their eyes. It’s a moment that appears to be so special and so sacred.
I’ve never once watched a medal ceremony, heard an anthem and thought about that country’s military personnel. I don’t watch Usain Bolt smash the very fabric of human limitations, see him standing atop the podium, hear his anthem playing and think of the Jamaica Defence Force.
In fact, the only time a country’s military should possibly be equated with its anthem and flag is under a totalitarian regime. Thankfully, we have an amazing military force that protects us, rather than rules over us.
Individuals are entitled to be unhappy with the actions of many within the NFL. However, their boos and boycotts are misguided if they believe those actions are an affront to military personnel.
Unfortunately, the President’s involvement has further clouded the actual issue that started this controversy and made it purely about patriotism. Well, patriotism can come in many forms, which all result in strengthening a country.
Remaining willfully blind to its own problems does not make a country stronger.
Everyone has a right to voice their disapproval. It would be hypocritical to say otherwise. But be sure that many who have taken a knee also come from families with military roots and branches.
This is not and has never been about them.
David Simon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.