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NFL Nonsense: An Empathetic Response

One reads with empathy mixed with a measure of disappointment, “NFL Nonsense.. .” by Bill York of Lawrenceville, GA in the May 2018 issue of the Gwinnett Citizen. We are all thankful to Mr. York as well as other members of his family for his military service. His heart-felt reminder of those who gave their last ounce of devotion at Pearl Harbor, the Bataan Death March, Normandy, Iwo Jima, et al to preserve American freedom is much needed and touches us all.

His letter castigates those players of the NFL (all African American) for kneeling during the playing of the National Anthem at football games. He suggests that the “kneelers” are unaware of the thousands who died “to protect their opportunity to become wealthy”. Mr. York rues their climbing into “luxury cars, wearing flashy jewelry and drive to lavish homes.” He also claims that their “anti-glory” conduct engenders “the monkey see monkey do” syndrome. He concludes that those who demean our flag have never been handed a folded one. As a result, he has quit watching football.

Regretfully, there are several things Mr. York does not seem to understand either about the flag or the meaning of the protest. To begin with, the flag of the United States is neither the symbol for nor representative of the United States military. The stars and stripes stand for the ideals and values of America. It is the banner yet waving “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave”. What ever might be done to it, —whether burned as in the Vietnam protests or woven into the Ku Klux Klan hoods —is against what our nation stands for, not against the military. The military oath that Mr. York himself took was to defend the U. S. Constitution against all enemies.

Then too, Mr. York’s letter seems oblivious to the role African Americans have played in all of the wars of America. In addition to the fact that the first American to die in the Revolutionary War was Crispus Attucks and that some nine thousand Negroes fought for America’s independence. Further, even though the U. S. military was not desegregated until 1948, some 2.5 million African Americans served in World War II. And one of the first heroes of that war was Doris Miller, a Ship’s Cook Third Class aboard the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.  His Navy Cross citation reads in part: “(For) distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard of his personal safety during the attack. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller despite enemy strafing and bombing assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety and later manned and operated a machine gun until ordered to leave the bridge.”

African Americans, as Mr.York’s comrades, have received medals of honor from the Navy Cross to the Purple Heart and, yes, also received “folded flags”, often, however, families received them at gravesides in segregated cemeteries because black soldiers returning home, in person or in coffins, faced discrimination, and racial inequality.

Most sadly is that Mr. York fails to grasp the deeper meaning of what the “kneeling” during the National Anthem by NFL players is really about. Though he seems to begrudge the fact that presently many black NFL players are “multimillionaires”, the fact is black players were not allowed to play in the NFL until 1946 when Kenny Washington was signed by the Los Angeles Rams. Because black players are “paid to play” —earning the NFL some 13 billions dollars per year— they are expected to be grateful for the opportunity and stay in their place. Yet, it is because of their unique platform that some players felt the call to bring national attention to a grave travesty on the American ideal. Their protests were designed to call America’s attention to a brutal fact of life in the African American community: black men being shot down in cold blood by police officers. For a professional football player to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem calling attention to all America that black lives do matter epitomizes what America is all about. From its very beginning, Americans have died for any and all Americans to have that right. If we deny that right, NFL “nonsense” notwithstanding, then all of those who gave their lives in the cause of freedom, died in vain.

Othal H. Lakey
Buford, GA

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