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No Matter What They Say, It’s Always About America, the Flag, and the Military

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/John Minchillo

Three years ago, as Colin Kaepernick knelt the NFL into submission and injected woke politics into sports, I penned my first national column in an attempt to take a reasonable, moderate approach to the kneeling controversy. I never agreed with the kneeling and I blamed both the NFL and the owners for permitting it, especially the incompetent Roger Goodell as he tried to kabuki dance across a political tightrope, but it didn’t stop me from watching the Cincinnati Bengals lose week after week. But oh, how times have changed.  


Major League Baseball starts tonight. I, like millions of other sports-starved Americans, am eagerly looking forward to it, even if the stands are filled with life-size cutouts of players’ pets, which is better than looking at a lot of human beings, especially politicians. But if the last few days are a foreshadowing of what’s to come, the MLB has fully embraced the woke culture and will likely shove it down our throats in various ways, especially as it has officially endorsed and celebrated players kneeling during the national anthem. Before the pre-game ceremonies begin, I think it’s important to remind the players and the league what that flag and anthem stand for, at least to this Marine.  

You can claim until the Chick-fil-A cow comes home that it’s not about the military, that it’s not about the flag, but you’re only lying to yourself, embracing a position that would make the emperor and his new clothes proud. The American flag is a symbol of honor; it is a symbol of sacrifice, lowered during times of loss and used to cover the casket of every service member who falls in service to this great nation; it is saluted during all military ceremonies; it is a symbol of American democracy; and it is a symbol of American freedom. And it is during the National Anthem that the flag is honored, as we stand facing it, holding our hands over our hearts, and sing. And when you kneel during the anthem, you are disrespecting all of those things, and you are sending a message to veterans and Americans who value those ideals, who protect those ideals with their lives, that they aren’t worthy of your respect.  


Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely endorse all Americans’ right to protest, but the current political movement burning through the streets and cities is not about protest. It’s about destroying America, burning buildings, committing violent crimes, and tearing down statues. Unlike the progressive mayors of those cities, I have to draw the line somewhere. But what makes this latest round of kneeling worse is that it’s an extension of what’s happening in the streets and is now officially endorsed and celebrated by the sports leagues and teams.  

When the Cincinnati Reds had four players kneel the other night, their social media director tweeted out a picture and the word “Unity.” Three years ago, the NFL permitted players to protest and kneel, but the Reds and the MLB are taking it even further – they are celebrating it, telling you that all of those things I mentioned about the flag and the anthem are secondary and wrong, that the flag and the anthem are not be respected, and that it’s a good thing that their players knelt. The official MLB tweeted out support for the San Francisco Giants, whose manager knelt. I find this position offensive, but more importantly, it’s completely hypocritical, especially by the Cincinnati Reds.  

Last year, I was humbled to be the Cincinnati Reds’ final Hometown Hero, where they honor a military member or veteran at every game. It was a truly moving experience, and I wrote about it here. But in ten short months, the Reds have shifted their priorities and they don’t get to have it both ways. It’s one thing to permit players to protest (even though owners do not have to, as players are at-will employees), but it’s another to celebrate it. If disrespecting the flag is the official position that the Reds want to push, as they did on Twitter, then they should admit it and stop pretending that they care about veterans and the military, because if they truly did, they wouldn’t be tweeting idiotic statements like “Unity” as their players disrespect something that so many people have fought and died for. The Reds have to choose between endorsing and celebrating kneeling during the anthem or honoring military veterans, because the two are mutually exclusive. They don’t get to have their woke cake and eat it, too.  


We live in insanely divisive times. I’ve always tried to be moderate, and I’ll always listen to someone who disagrees with me. But enough is enough. At some point, Americans will have to choose – do we want to support athletes who despise our values, the same values that provide them a free country in which to earn their million-dollar salaries? Do we want to support leagues who celebrate disrespecting the flag and the anthem? Do we want to support leagues who only use the military and veterans as marketing tools to promote their newest line of clothing? Or do we want to hold them accountable and say, once and for all, if you don’t respect us, you don’t deserve our patronage. Too many people have fought and died for this country, in honor of the American Flag and National Anthem, and enough is enough. We deserve better.    

Semper Fidelis.  

Matthew Betley is a former Marine officer, a recovering alcoholic, an advocate for victims of toxic exposure to Burn Pits, and a political action thriller author of multiple novels. His Logan West series from Simon & Schuster is available wherever books are sold. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewBetley or find him on Facebook or Instagram. 

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