One of the loudest criticisms I’ve heard about Colin Kaepernick’s, Brandon Marshall’s and undoubtedly soon to be other athletes’ protests against police shootings is that it’s disrespectful to military veterans. And on the eve of the horrific 15th anniversary of 9/11, the fever pitch is getting higher. Please stop. You don’t speak for all veterans. SOME veterans may take this form of protest as an intended affront, but not all of us do. So please stop speaking on our collective behalf and lumping all veterans into the category of Kaepernick haters. Notice, I said ‘please’ several times. Have you not heard there are plenty of veterans who have fought and sacrificed for what this country really stands for who ‘get it’ and support the rights of those protesting, how they choose to protest? Yes, even during the National Anthem. As one veteran put it, “I fought for our rights, not a song.”
“U.S. Army veteran Richard Allen Smith said that people burning the quarterback’s jersey “with the troops and veterans being the reason seemed ridiculous.” Being used wasn’t a new feeling. Smith said politicians and corporations often use the military and its servicemen and women for promotion. That leaves some veterans, like Smith, feeling like props for people who haven’t made the sacrifice, but want to cloak themselves in their credibility.” – The Undefeated
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I’ve asked before, and I’ll ask again – in the United States of America, why is this even a story? This is the land of the free. That means free to speak up against American institutions, policies and symbols when you feel there has been an injustice. What is absolutely mind blowing is how much this criticism is utter hypocrisy and lost on those who are the most vocal. What veterans fought for is the very right he and others are expressing. What veterans should be offended by is anyone looking to suppress the rights that we fought for. These players have said time and time again, they don’t hate America, they don’t hate the military, they don’t even hate the police. This is the method they choose to keep shining a light on a conversation about race that we obviously still aren’t adult enough to have productive dialogue about.
If no other words of mine resonate, please at least consider this: What are your real concerns? Is it the flag? Is it a song? Is it that you want players to just play and not bring politics onto the field, court, etc.? Is it that you don’t want to, are afraid of or don’t know how to talk about racial tension in the United States? Do you feel like everything American is ‘under attack’ as it’s been articulated in recent political forums? Is it that you enjoy the cognitive dissonance in being able to cheer for athletes of color or LGBT athletes without having to see them as the people they are and the everyday issues they (and/or their communities) have to face when out of uniform? Is it that you are tired of hearing about issues you don’t feel affect you and/or you simply don’t give a crap about others? If you need a Dr. Phil intervention to get at the real stick in your craw, then take one, but stop immediately dismissing and discounting someone else’s concerns because you don’t think they are YOUR issues or people are not talking about them the way YOU would like, how YOU would like, when YOU would like and where YOU would like.
If you want to stand, cover your heart, salute, cry, sing out of tune, etc., during the National Anthem, then have at it. I choose to stand, sometimes I cover my heart, but I respect and honor the rights of others to choose to not do those things when, where, why and how they choose. As much as I love this country, I too, will criticize her on issues for which I think we can and should be better. Constructive criticism is most often borne out of love, is it not? Did you ever stop to think about it from that angle? What? They may be protesting because they actually love this country? Is that one of those paradox things? I guess the operative word would be ‘think’, I know that takes energy and effort. Energy and effort that is well worth expending if we would only choose to do so instead of working up a froth over Tweets and soundbites.
And please know this – the military itself is not free from racism. I hope that’s not a shocker as the military is simply a microcosm of America. Racial tension in America, racial tension in the military. I sat with fellow Marines preparing to deploy to Desert Storm having a conversation about race when one of them [who happened to be White] proudly declared, “The sheriff in our town makes sure that we won’t have any coloreds. You can drive through during the day, but you better not stop and you sure as hell better not be hanging around after dark.” I didn’t make that up; I didn’t put those words in his head, they came out of his own mouth in 1990 nonetheless, not 1950. And this was a guy I had to trust having my back when and if the proverbial shit hit the fan! So, there you have it – I just criticized an American institution I have always loved and have great pride in having served. But it can be better. We can be better, but only when we stop acting like hypocrites and allow real discourse to happen the real American way.
© 2016 David Casey