It’s yet another installment in the issue or anthem protests. This one over an honor the Saints were to highlight for Commander John Wells.
On Sunday, Nov. 5, the New Orleans Saints host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as all of the teams in the NFL honor veterans. For the Saints organization, the ceremony to honor vets was to include the presentation of the People’s Health Champion Award to retired Navy Commander John Wells.
In a very public refusal, Mr. Wells expressed his resistance to the NFL in light of players kneeling for the national anthem. The Saints, to their credit, honored his choice, but restated their commitment to honoring the military.
While we might understand and respect Mr. Wells’ position, he might do better to reconsider.
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I live in Syracuse, New York, and I am a season ticket holder to Syracuse Orange Football. This is what happened just before the SU/Pitt game on October 7, 2017. Only two weeks after the leader of this nation used an expletive to demean players who kneel for the anthem:
I arrived as the anthem was being performed so I was not in my seat. It was the first game since Trump had lain gauntlet. Many in the corridors of the Carrier Dome were stopped, focused on the field, hands placed on their chests. Some, however, glared at those who continued on to their seats.
Unconsciously, I found myself singing, the words and music so deeply a part of American life. But on that day I caught myself and stopped singing. And I also caught those who, like me, were not singing, or standing. In that moment, the judgements were active and alive, enforced in glares by the self-appointed sentries of patriotic behavior. I stopped singing. I continued walking.
In one reckless rhetorical act, the leader of the free world put us all in danger because he gave us license to maintain polarized positions, to make our differences visible and to, in effect, go to war. The two sides: do we honor a flag or do we honor a nation built on principles and laws that should be followed equally for and by all citizens?
To sing or to stand at that moment is to say that police brutality toward persons of color is okay and that the executions of citizens in our streets is okay. We might not think we say this as we follow traditions long established. But in telling fans to leave if players kneel that opposition has been established.
How small a sacrifice would it be for us to honor NFL players’ engagement in the political process? We expect so much of their bodies on the field for our pleasure. What right to we have to deny their voices?
By the time I got to my seat the anthem was over. A friend told me that there had been an altercation a few seats down. Of course there was. And there will be more. Because the visibility of our positions is now crystal clear. And in these stadiums of contests between teams, of shared joy, of players’ efforts and players’ ethics, we are set to fight.
A question for Commander Wells
So here is my question to Commander Wells: why do you want to see this particular incendiary lit in our homeland? As a person of conscience, I must support the players who kneel or lock arms. I must.
When we share a win with people who root for the same team, people we may not know, we become the joyous crowd. Individual joy is amplified and the win feels so much better than a singular achievement because the “I” connects to the “we” and spirits merge. In this arguably most brutal of sports, where aggression in the game often spills into the stands, a game has the potential to erase the differences between people.
Some NFL players kneel and link arms to call attention to America’s failed promises. In so doing, they engage in acts that make the American live.
In the choice between blind salute to a symbol or support for acts of solidarity that give the flag meaning, we should honor the players.