By Jarid Watson
Athletes kneeling during the national anthem at sporting events in support of social change– some call it disrespectful to veterans and the military.
What do actual veterans think?
As a 12 year Air Force veteran who served in Afghanistan alongside men and woman from all walks of life, I find our opinions vary.
The controversy began last August after former NFL quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick sat during the National Anthem.
Days later Kaepernick responded to criticism.
“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, this is something that has to change. When there’s significant change and I feel that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, and this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”
Kaepernick said he meant no disrespect toward veterans or the military.
“I have great respect for the men and women that have fought for this country. I have family, I have friends that have gone and fought for this country. And they fight for freedom, they fight for the people, they fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody. That’s something that’s not happening. I’ve seen videos. I’ve seen circumstances where men and women that have been in the military have come back and been treated unjustly by the country they fought have for, and have been murdered by the country they fought for, on our land. That’s not right.”
So, I decided to reach out to my military and veteran friends on Facebook to see how they felt. Obviously, this isn’t a scientific study.
To be honest I was surprised by the response, and by the fact that I didn’t have to unfriend anyone at the end of it all.
A majority of the nearly 30 friends who responded said they were not offended.
Harry wrote, “I’m more offended by people who claim outrage on my behalf. If someone wants to speak for a vet, enlist and speak for yourself. Free speech is the core of our American values…or was.”
On the other hand, Stephanie responded, “Athletes who kneel during the national anthem are being disrespectful to any veteran who fought so that we can live so freely. They are cowards who rather have others fight, and die, for them while they cry for larger contracts.”
As for the tactic – kneeling during the anthem – more of my veteran friends said they didn’t approve and that it’s not something they could ever see themselves doing.
Shawn responded, “There is no cause that would make me kneel. I stand-up for causes. Despite things that anger me, I do not blame the country and will not disrespect it.”
In my Facebook questionnaire of sorts, I referred to kneeling during the Anthem as “slacktivism.” My friend Salil quickly took the opportunity to call out my use of the term by saying, “I don’t know that it is slacktivism. Some of these athletes are risking a lot by doing it. As a uniformed service member, kneeling isn’t an option for me. As a civilian, I can understand kneeling for any injustices, really.”
No one who responded claimed to be “outraged.”
During their first regular season NFL game, Cleveland Browns players, first responders, and military members ran onto the field together. Weeks before, some players had knelt in prayer. Alone.
But this week, they locked arms with the officers in solidarity as the national anthem played.
The Cleveland Police Patrolmen’s Association released statement, in part saying, “Once again Cleveland has risen above the fray and has demonstrated that respectful communication is the key to resolving any problem. We can always accomplish much more good by standing, communicating and working together than we ever will by standing apart.”
That is how we begin to find solutions, common ground, and a better understanding of one another.
We as Americans ALL have a voice, and an opportunity, to reach out and ask, “How can we do better?” It’s easy to be angry. It’s harder to find solutions.
I feel no disrespect from players who kneel during the Anthem. I instead would rather we find solutions to why they kneel in the first place.
Read my entire Facebook thread on the matter here: