I cry for my country as I watch divisive politics intrude into every facet of our lives. From social media to sports, the focus is on what divides us, not on what unites us. As Americans, we have so much to be proud of.
Certainly, some racists still live in our midst, but America is not a racist country. From President Trump and President Obama to the overwhelming majority of citizens from both parties, racism is strongly condemned. As Martin Luther King, Jr. hoped, the character of a person does count more than the color of person’s skin. It’s not just black or white lives that matter; all lives matter. Progress in racial equality can always be made, but amazing progress has already occurred and should be affirmed and celebrated in every generation.
As an American, I support the right to demonstrate for even unpopular causes. Polls indicate that up to 80% of Americans support the right to protest but not the use of the National Anthem as the forum for that protest. The approximately 200 NFL players who took a knee during the National Anthem Sunday have the right to do that at every game. But they forget that there is an equal right for fans to voice their disapproval of their actions. Offended fans have the right to stop supporting their endorsements, to refuse to pay for or wear their products, and to call them out for not honoring Team America.
That may very well be happening. Besides all the empty seats in the stands at the Sunday night NFL game, early numbers on the TV ratings were down 8% from last week and 10% from last year. You don’t need numbers to validate what’s happening.
Do the actions of the kneelers make you want to watch next Sunday’s pregame follies and another display of disrespect to our flag? Does it make you want to pay outrageous ticket and food prices to watch players bring politics into a sport you used to love watching? Many once-fans are posting that they’re done watching. Still others promise to turn channels whenever they show players kneeling or commentators talking about how “brave” they are for taking a stand. Of course, many on the extreme left will applaud the players’ attacks on President Trump and their stand for identity politics.
But far more Americans believe that the brave players are the ones who rejected the calls to kneel and disrespect the National Anthem. Pittsburgh Steeler offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva’s courageous stand during the National Anthem deserves the accolades he has received. When he was the lone Pittsburgh Steeler to come to the field to place his hand on his heart and sing the National Anthem, he gained the respect of millions of Americans. His coach criticized him for not joining the team's call for unity in remaining off the field. But the veteran Villanueva counted standing with Team America more important than showing unity with the Pittsburgh Steelers who wished to avoid taking a stand for our country. Early reports indicate that after his stand, sales for his jersey have skyrockerted to number one. I’ve helped that happen and will wear his jersey proudly.
Admittedly, some of President Trump's intemperate messages about this issue have ratcheted up the response of players. But for those who elected a no-nonsense, non-politically correct outsider for a president, the expanding kneeling demonstrations during the National Anthem just fuels more support for Trump.
Most Americans just want to watch a sporting event without having politics injected into the game. Standing for the National Anthem should not be politicized. The National Anthem allows us as citizens to affirm the respect we have for America, a country that has continually worked to fight racism and maintain our treasured freedoms—including the right to disagree even about this.
Time will tell what these actions mean to the future of the NFL and to the pocketbooks of those involved. My suggestion to professional players is to exercise their right to share their views on other platforms, to endorse and vote for candidates they support, and to demonstrate in support of their views. But I suggest they once again unite to stand for the National Anthem to honor the country that ensures those very rights for us all.