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Yes. There are two Americas.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The NFL and the networks that carry its games are scrambling. They recently brought in new marketing talent in an attempt to deflect attention away from some of the players’ shameful treatment of our flag and national anthem. ESPN decided that they would go to commercials during the anthem. As if that would fool us. Then Phil Knight and his sneaker company Nike threw gasoline on the fire, making Colin Kaepernick their poster child.


Let the shoe burning begin!

There are two Americas. One still believes in real heroes.

Here in the other America, many of us participated in annual Tee it Up for the Troops golf events. A chance to thank all those who have served our nation. It can get pretty emotional.

The centerpiece of the opening ceremonies includes the honoring of Gold Star Mothers. Seeing those empty boots, the helmets sitting silently atop rifles, bayonets planted deeply into the putting green is a haunting reminder of the selfless sacrifice that those young men made for us. It is relatively easy to honor those Americans killed in action. But, watching the mothers come forward and see their eyes, dulled with the pain of a loss they will live with for the rest of their lives. That will bring tears to even the strongest among us.

Also among the invited guests here in Rochester were World War II veterans, three of whom went ashore at Normandy. They ranged in age from 93 to 98. Stan Whiting was a de-coding expert. Ivan Cady was one of the surviving boys who scaled the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. The Rangers knew how dangerous the mission would be. Enemy machine guns would be reigning down on them as they made the climb. Many were lost. They still had to fight their way through Europe after the the cliffs were secured. That boy has gracefully grown old. He smiled as he sat quietly in a wheel chair as people took the opportunity to shake his hand and thank him for his service.


Normandy vet Ken Axleson had enlisted in the Army days after graduating from Red Wing High School. Trained as a medic, he landed at Omaha beach on D-Day. He remembers treating many of the wounded and seeing the dead Americans “stacked like cordwood” on the beach. Axleson was also in the teeth of the fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. He was taken captive by the Germans, marched into Germany and spent months in a POW camp. In the fog of war it was unclear what had become of him. It was generally assumed that he had been killed, his body unrecovered. His mother had to deal with the sad likelihood that her son would never return.

On Private Axelson’s 21st birthday, American forces led by General George Patton liberated the camp. He says it was the greatest day of his life. Imagine the joy of his parents when they received his letter saying that he was alive and safe.

It is doubtful that a new marketing team can repair the damage being done to the image of the NFL. Or Nike’s for that matter. They live in the other America. The players who disrespect our flag are probably unaware of real men like these. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. The NFL should help educate them.

But, don’t bet on it.

One solution would be to encourage more of the players and coaches to attend Tee it Up events. They could add a Gold Star Mother’s Day to the schedule, honoring these women with all of the teams wearing gold arm bands. Encourage players to visit some of the military hospitals. They could see first hand real pain and sacrifice. Let them look into those eyes, shake those hands and hear the stories. Help them to understand the enormous price that their fellow Americans have paid. It would be a humbling experience and a window into that other America.


Maybe if they met some real heroes they would find better ways to air their grievances with our yet imperfect and divided nation. Until that happens, a growing number of us who live in the real America will find better ways to spend our Sunday afternoons…and our shoe money.

Gil Gutknecht served six terms in both the Minnesota and the U.S. House of Representatives. He writes about healthcare and political issues of the day. He is currently working on a book about the high costs of Rx drugs. 

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