To the Editor:
A neighbor who knows I am a veteran approached me in my driveway the other day and asked how I felt about athletes who sit or kneel during the national anthem. A woman she works with had told her that she and her husband, also a veteran, were boycotting NFL games because they are offended by what they see as disrespect for the flag or for people who have served in the armed forces. My neighbor asked if I felt the same way.
I told her I was curious about what the boycotters disagreed with. Are they saying that there is a proper, patriotic way to show respect for the flag and our country during the playing of the national anthem and that choosing another way—silently kneeling or sitting and thinking private thoughts—troubles them? Or do they disagree with what the athletes are saying: that our country has a problem, that innocent African-American men are much more likely than innocent white men to be shot by the police while walking down the street, getting out of their cars, or driving home from the mall, and that prosecutors and juries seem reluctant to do anything about this?
Either way, whatever their motive, I am fine with the boycotters and their boycott. They are exercising their right as Americans to peacefully make a point about something that makes them angry. If it is the players’ message they disagree with, however, they are mistaken.
I am a 73-year-old white man. A few years ago, my wife and I shared a Thanksgiving dinner with a group that included two older African-American women, both longtime community college educators. There were lots of stories in the news that year about young black men who had been shot by the police or by vigilantes. I can’t remember the names; there have been so many. We began talking about those cases with these women, and I can’t forget what they said. They live in fear. They have sons and grandsons who are in college, or are working as teachers, or preachers, or are just trying to figure out what to do with their lives, and these mothers and grandmothers live in constant fear that some night one of the young men they love will be shot and killed by a nervous cop for no reason. They warn their sons and grandsons to be careful, but the fear doesn’t go away. This is a problem—not just for them, but for all of us.
I was a teenager when I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1963, and I can’t remember all of my reasons for joining up—some were personal and a little silly—but I do remember that I was proud of my country. It was a place where people could nonviolently protest against injustice, with a real hope that things would get better. This tradition has made and still makes our country great, and I would hate to see it curtailed in the name of patriotism.