Why is that when some NFL players want to express how they feel about America during the National Anthem, they are condemned as though they do not have the right to feel the way they do? And why do these players marginalize America in a narrow perspective, offending those who love our country so much?

What makes the United States so great is that we have a variety of thoughts that can be expressed in a variety of ways. We do not live in a society where our free thought and actions are governed to a point where we do not have freedom of expression.

When we are offended by what other people do and immediately condemn them for their expression of how they feel without trying to walk in their shoes and understand why they feel that way only shows the lack of willingness of the offended to show empathy.

I am proud to be an American. If the National Anthem is being played at a game, I will stand and honor the flag. There are so many reasons not to stand, but I feel that they are far outweighed by the reasons to stand. The fact that I can express myself either way is reason enough to stand and honor the flag.

The flag represents many ideas to many people. To most in the military, you can’t even begin to understand what it feels for them to honor our nation. They would die for freedom and the interests of the free world. They go into battle situations without questioning the command and risk their lives to protect America and other countries around the world.

What does the flag mean to you? One Army veteran puts it this way, “The power to guard and protect loved ones, homes, beliefs, and Americans in general; deserving or not.” A Navy veteran said, “Because I know of veterans who sacrificed it all, I believe in the American Flag.” A Marine veteran said, “There are days it stirs something within my heart; pride, respect and at times awe, knowing what so many have given and continue to give for this country.”

Mary Shull Thompson, a WWII veteran of the Women’s Army Corps, said “I was proud to be a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, and was glad to be one of the nation’s guardians,” she said, “It’s my flag. My country.”

To African Americans, it was not too long ago that they could not vote. The discrimination against African Americans is real in America whether you want to believe it or not. I see it with my own eyes. The loyal Japanese-Americans who were put into internment camps during World War II was one of the most notorious violations of civil liberties in American history. And I believe lost in all of this discussion is how Hispanics feel. They love America, but many Americans hold them in contempt, expecting the worse in them.

If you are a white American, you probably do not understand any of these moments in a way that they do. Questioning them on how they feel based only on your life experiences undermines the value of their perspective. How can you question that how they feel is not right? It is their experiences so questioning their love for the United States is a failure to understand their perspective.

The media focuses on bad police officers and shines a spotlight on their actions, while the good men and women of the police force get systematically forced into the same category. The publicity of this has a way with the mind and subconsciously transforms how you think about police officers.

I understand this. I am able to discern most of the news stories and understand what they are doing. They concentrate on what boils people’s minds because it attracts readers and viewers, and therefore revenue comes into play.

I’ll give you an example of how this works. I moved to Mexico for my wife’s work assignment and before I moved, many people questioned whether or not it was safe for me to go. They talked about the violence and cartels and worried that I would get caught up in the crossfires. How do they get this thought? Well, they don’t know anything about Mexico unless they hear it on the news. Get it? I walk freely here and have enjoyed discovering my new country of residence. Also, the many wonderful people that I have met have blessed me and have found a way to my heart.

Meanwhile, the United States can be a rough place to live… just watch the news. 🙂

Aside from the news stories, people’s life experiences are different than mine. I don’t know what it is like to be an African American and feel the pressure they do. I understand some experiences people have from those in authority roles in this country can determine the thought process about life. But to marginalize their experiences and refuse to understand how they feel a certain way only shows my unwillingness to love my neighbor.

People can look at the color of my skin and determine that I am a beneficiary of white privilege, a set of unfair prejudgment and proclamation. Yet if they sat down and listened to my life story and what has happened, they would get a picture painted by my own life experiences and see that generalities are not a great way to categorize people. But until they hear my life story, the only picture they have is what others have painted for them already.

This is why I believe it is important to listen. When people are hurt, we need to listen. It is an opportunity to understand and if we are not willing to try to understand because we do not share the feelings of others or their life experiences, then how American is that? This affects both sides of the National Anthem issue.

For Colin Kaepernick and others of like mind: While I think what you are doing is convoluting the message of how you feel because of what the flag represents as a whole to so many people, I believe that there are far more productive ways to create social change. The best way is by helping to mend the differences we see by our own actions of love and compassion. As Master Sergeant Cedric King said in a recent ESPN article, “I hope that he realizes that just sitting or kneeling will not stop the injustice which he is in strong opposition of,” King said. “The thing that stops injustice of others is a strong understanding of each other. It is very hard to mistreat each other when I understand and love you.” I support your freedom of expression and do not hold it against you. I would despise living in a country where you could not express yourself. I am all ears, listening to what the issues you have.

For those that condemn the sitting or kneeling in protest of the National Anthem: Practice compassion and understanding, prior to judgment. This is a fundamental process to be discerning and therefore responsive to another person’s actions. Understanding the life story of another person is paramount to helping to resolve conflict. If you are not willing to let others be free to express themselves, then how can we be “the land of the free?” As Lee Greenwood sings it,“I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free.”

Ultimately, I hold each side of this issue accountable for not understanding who they are offending. It is not all about one perspective and stating it as such is only reflective of narrow mindedness. I believe that if we were all willing to sit down and have dinner together and talk about our life experiences, our perspectives of one another would change. We need to practice compassion more often with ears to understand and hearts to love one another. Let our Anthem be to love and understand one another.


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