OP-Ed: They knew it wasn’t going to be popular with many of their fans. But many NFL players felt like they had to take a stand against what they felt was a direct slight by President Trump on Friday when he called for NFL owners “to fire the sons of bitches” who refuse to stand for the national anthem.

But it wasn’t just the players who pushed back. It was the owners of NFL teams as well. Several of them Republicans, a few like New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, are considered close friends of the President. Kraft released a statement where he struck a diplomatic pose by stating “he was disappointed” by the tone of the President’s message.

And many players struck back by taking a knee during the National Anthem prior to Sunday’s NFL games. Many fans, including those here in New England, booed their players when they saw them taking a knee before the anthem and there were several shouts for the players to “Stand UP!”. Veterans, including many of our readers here at SpecialOperations.com and SOFREP.com were largely incensed at the kneeling during the anthem which the vast majority of which, took as a swipe at the flag, the country as a whole and those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in our country.

The entire flap over the National Anthem began in 2016 with then San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick who refused to stand for the anthem because of the racial inequality against people of color as well as what considered police brutality. Kaepernick’s early protests were mostly ignored but then began to generate momentum around the league. He didn’t help his own cause when he came to press conference wearing a Fidel Castro t-shirt. Castro was hardly the poster child for racial equality or human rights. But the more that people pushed back against Kaepernick the more than other NFL players began to support his stand, Castro shirt notwithstanding.

I’ve seen this argument from both sides of the equation. I am a veteran of the US Army Special Forces and I too feel strongly about standing for the national anthem and nothing irks me more than people who refuse to remove their hats during it or can’t shut their pie-hole for two minutes while it is being played at sporting events I attend.

But I’ve also covered the NFL and have had media access to the New England Patriots. While I won’t tell you that I know any of the players, (that would be BS), however, from seeing many of them frequently, you can get a sense of who these guys are and what they’re all about. But I can tell you it is seeing the perspective from both sides. New England has a Navy officer (Ensign Joe Cardona who is the long-snapper for the team) and when they travel Cardona wears his uniform, so the players understand where others who may disagree are coming from. 

Are they extremely well compensated? Absolutely. But one must remember that for most of them, their NFL careers are woefully short. But do they act like entitled brats that many people seem to feel? No. The vast majority are young men who know they have been blessed with a unique opportunity. The Patriots front office tries to keep their feet grounded by insisting that all players take part in a number of community events during the year. Most go well beyond the requirement, several, including team captain Devin McCourty, Jordan Richards, Matthew Slater and others try to attend every community event to give back to the people, the fans who pay their salaries. It isn’t a duty that they take lightly.

The vast majority of these young men are African-American and although they won’t admit to it perhaps publically, they are also being pulled by the African-American community to “not forget where they came from.” And the fact of the matter is the vast majority of African-Americans in this country, don’t trust this President, don’t feel he represents them or their families and they don’t feel he’s working for them.

So when President Trump sent out that tweet on Friday, not only did it hit home with the players, the SOBs comment was to most of them a personal affront. And they felt that they had to respond.

There are problems in this country, racial mistrust, inequalities, and issues among the people of color with the police that do exist. I haven’t walked in their shoes growing up so I can’t sit here and tell them how they should or shouldn’t feel. If they feel a sense of mistrust towards the police, then to them it is a truth. That is something we have to fix because to leave it alone or sweep it under the rug will mean it will only fester and grow worse.

So, when these players take a knee during the anthem, they’re answering the call from their own communities as well as what they perceive as an insult by President Trump. The one thing they aren’t trying to do is to denigrate or disrespect anything that has to do with the military. They’re aware that men and women, including many people of their own race, put their lives on the line to protect us and our way of life. There is the disconnect.

McCourty tried to explain his and his teammates’ rationale by saying,“We wanted to come together first and foremost,” McCourty said. “We hate that people are going to see it as we don’t respect the military and the men and women that are way braver than us, that go and put their life on the line every day for us to have the right to play football.

“Guys have family members – fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters that serve – and they were really conflicted about it. But we just wanted to send a message of unity and being together and not standing for the disrespect and different ways guys felt. So many different things going through a lot of guys heads and it was unique to see guys kind of come together and bond together as a group before the game, and do that.”

Brandin Cooks has relatives in the military and offered this to the media after Sunday’s game. “One statement I would just like to make is that a lot of people think we’re disrespecting the flag and the military, but my father and uncle were Marines, and I have the utmost respect for the men and women that fight for our freedom. I feel conflicted in a sense because I have no courage to do something like that, so I understand the magnitude that they’re fighting across the world for our freedom.

“The message we’re trying to send is that we want respect and unity, and there’s only so many ways that you can do it,” Cooks said. “We decided before the game that we were going to do it and I’m glad we went through with it.”

“I have nothing but respect for the flag. I love my country, but I just wanted to support my teammates,” Cassius Marsh, whose girlfriend served in the armed forces, said. “I think it’s a unifying thing in every locker room. You support your guys, you’re standing up for your teammates. “It’s not about choosing sides or anything like that,” added Marsh. “My side is people. I love the people in this country.”

Personally, I respect their right to protest, and as I’ve stated above, I haven’t walked in their shoes, so far be it from me to tell them that should or should not feel a certain way. This country has always had the right, paid for in blood, to stand up and say something that others may find uncomfortable. I also reserve the right to feel that the way they went about their protest was not the right way.

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Why so many military members feel so strongly about the standing for the flag. (Wikipedia photo)

A better way? It is too late now since most people have cemented their own ideas on what has transpired, however, since the television networks rarely air the national anthem anyway, their message is getting lost to the majority of viewers. Wait until kickoff time, when the game is supposed to start. Then both teams walk out to midfield, take a knee or stand arm-in-arm and have a minute of silence for reflection, prayer etc. That message will get carried across the television screens in every home on the major networks carrying the games. Your message gets hammered home without another segment of the population feeling that now they are being disrespected. Since the message being sent by the players is “coming together”, wouldn’t this make more sense?

We live in a country where it seems we’re being pulled apart every day a little bit more. Instead of pointing fingers as to whose fault it is, which is self-defeating and only adds to the problem, we need to come together and show some mutual respect for one another. No one thinks this country is perfect, we are a beautifully flawed Republic, that still has a long way to go. But in the 241 years, we have been a beacon for others around the world to look up to and aspire to be. Having traveled around the world and visiting over 40 countries in my life thus far, there’s no place better. So I agree with McCourty, we do need to come together. And we need to listen to one another.  

Photo: television screenshot