Hey, football fans, let’s exercise our speech rights | Opinion

As a baby boomer, I am feeling a sense of deja vu, like I am reliving the 1960s. The divisive days of “love it or leave it” are here again, and either you proudly stand and sing the national anthem as a patriot, or you kneel and disrespect the brave individuals who fought and died for our freedoms.

Just as in the ‘60s, when there was good reason to question governmental authority and peacefully protest for racial and gender equality, it is not an either/or proposition. It is, as many have realized, both. You can love your country and still believe that there is terrible injustice.

I served during the Vietnam War and thought of my involvement as an act of patriotism. I’m proud of our flag and national anthem but I once again find myself in a confrontation that I didn’t start.

I believe in our 1st Amendment right to free speech, which I and many others personally defended, but I find professional athletes kneeling when the rest of us stand during the national anthem to be offensive and troublesome. Just because they have that right to do so doesn’t mean they have to do it.

Not showing respect for the flag and national anthem is a slap in the face to every man and woman who served their country. If these athletes feel they must demonstrate, they should do it on their own time. People pay big bucks to watch them play, and, personally, I don’t care what their political views are. I would hope they could find a more appropriate venue to exercise rights and show unity.

Shame on the NFL for not having the backbone to stand up to its players. The protesters claim they’re just exercising their right of free expression regarding what they perceive as injustice in our system. While I disagree with their view, they undoubtedly have the right to think as they do. However, they work for a multibillion-dollar corporation and the NFL has policies that discourage behavior of this type.

The NFL’s game-operations manual states: “During the National Anthem, players on the field and bench area should stand at attention, face the flag, hold helmets in their left hand, and refrain from talking. The home team should ensure that the American flag is in good condition. It should be pointed out to players and coaches that we continue to be judged by the public in this area of respect for the flag and our country. Failure to be on the field by the start of the National Anthem (may) result in discipline, such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violations of the above, including first offenses.”

Veterans fought for Americans’ right to protest. Our flag and national anthem shouldn’t be used as a platform for athletes to state what’s wrong with America. They should be seen as reminders of all that is good and honorable, all made possible by those who defend America. America is far from perfect, but it’s the best the world has to offer, and it’s getting better every day.

In spite of its flaws, America is still the greatest nation on earth, so if you want to take a knee, do it in your place of worship or in front of your city hall, or wherever else you want — just not at a nationally televised professional sporting event. There is much more that unites us than divides us and displays of this sort just make the divisions wider.

Last season, Dallas team members were prohibited from wearing a black stripe to pay homage to a fallen police officer. They were on the job. If any of us protested while on the clock we would be fired.

I call for a boycott of the NFL on Veterans Day weekend. Fans and ticket holders, don’t go to the games, let them play in vacant stadiums; boycott all football telecasts. Pass this on to your family and friends. We can pay tribute to our military — some of whose members come home with the American flag draped over their coffin — and exercise our 1st Amendment rights at the same time.


Norbert Rug resides and writes in Lockport. Contact him at [email protected].