To kneel or not to kneel? America.

Okay, America. Let’s take a deep breath. Today, I’d like to calmly explore what really happened during the pre-game rituals of the NFL yesterday.

In 2016, Colin Kaepernick chose to begin sitting during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. When the media took notice, the backlash was instant. The right immediately decided that Kaepernick was “disrespecting the flag, troops and veterans.”

This is where things get murky. While some people may have been offended by his actions, he was in no way, shape or form attempted to disrespect the flag or armed forces. His decision to kneel during the national anthem was simply the platform he chose to deliver his message.

I’m going to borrow an analogy that I read elsewhere today to explain this concept.

During the civil rights movement, protestors held sit-ins at lunch counters during the lunch hour. These civil rights activists were not protesting the lunch counters or lunch. Their protests simply took place during lunchtime at lunch counters.

You see, just because NFL players are protesting during the national anthem, does not mean that they are protesting the national anthem or our armed forces.

The flag and national anthem represent all Americans. Who are we to tell another personal how they should display their patriotism. Who are we to tell them what any of this should mean to them? Live and let live.

We need to find the middle ground in America again.

I fully support every single player that took a knee yesterday. Why? Because it’s their right an American citizen to do so. I also understand that they’re employees and should their employer chose to fine or fire them for that action, their employer would have the the right to do so.

However, it is their inalienable right to choose to take that knee. At the same time, I greatly respect guys like Villanueva from the Steelers and Joe Cardona from the Patriots. These heroes served in the military and I thank them endlessly for their service. I thank them for doing a job that I certainly didn’t want to do and for literally fighting for the very rights that allow people to take a knee during the national anthem if they should choose to.

We as a nation need to remember that there is a fine line between nationalism and patriotism. The line is increasingly fine and as dangerous as ever.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the vernacular, nationalism is what took place in Germany, Italy and to an extent Japan during World War 2. It’s one thing to love your country and believe it’s the greatest country in the world. That’s patriotism. It’s a completely other thing to believe that your country is superior to all other countries and that forced patriotism, like telling someone they have to stand during the national anthem is acceptable. Forced or required displays of patriotism is called Nationalism and that’s a dangerous road to travel down. Countries that partake in nationalism are traditionally the ones we go to war with. See: North Korea.

Let us not forget that the fact that private citizens can take a knee during the national anthem without fear of government retaliation is exactly what makes our country so great.

The right to peacefully protest, without persecution from the government, is at the core of what it means to be American.

Simply listening to the other side can go a long way. I can’t begin to pretend that I know what it’s like to be a black man in America. It’s just not the world I live in. Maybe if we took the time to listened to the other side of the isle once in awhile we could find the middle ground we so badly need. By that, I mean truly taking the time to listen, critically think, process and then develop an educated opinion on topics. Knee jerk reactions and the need to simply shout down dissenting opinions will get us nowhere.

Additional factors that I truly believe need to spoken on pertain to the President of the United States. Yesterday the Commander in Chief put pressure on a privately held company to fire their employees if they didn’t act in accordance to unwritten “patriotic” guidelines that he has apparently established. It should be terrifying that the leader of the free world made a statement like that. Trump publicly endorsed punishing people for exercising their constitutional right of peacefully protesting. Think about that. Let it set in.

Now, let’s take into account that that company was the National Football League — a company that he once attempted to undermine by creating the United State Football League. It was not a government contractor, it wasn’t a medical company, it wasn’t financial institution – it was a sports entertainment company.

The President of the United State also went on television, said the phrase “sons of bitches” and sparked national outrage, all over Football players. Can we also briefly touch how disrespectful that statement is to the mothers of the 1,800 NFL players? Now, we know that the President hasn’t appeared to place much emphasis on respecting women, but it’s a bold move to put put the “bitch” label on 1800+ women he’s never met.

If that’s not beneath the office of the presidency, I don’t know what it.

I’d like to remind you that Trump once tweeted this:

How can we be expected to believe a person or take anything they say seriously when they call something a “hallmark of our democracy,” and six months later call for people to be punished for utilizing that hallmark?

Exhibit B: Trump was staunchly opposed to President Obama having any conversations with the NFL when he was in office, yet he feels his actions were appropriate?

I’ve written and re-written this about 10 times since noon yesterday. I tried to take my own advice and shy away from a knee jerk reaction. I can say unequivocally that I’m not mad that anyone kneeled. I personally, wouldn’t kneel, but I would proudly stand in solidarity with those who did and support them. I can’t pretend to understand what it’s like to be a minority or feel marginalized in America. But, I do know that forced patriotism is terrifying and the President suggesting that an American citizen be punished for exercising their right to peacefully protest is one of the most un-American actions I can imagine. I love my country and my support, understanding and compassion for those who feel oppressed or marginalized does not make me any less of a patriot than anyone else.

In closing, I suggest that we demand better of ourselves and demand more from each other. We’re all American, but we’re not all the same. The sooner we realize that and stop sowing the seeds of divisiveness, the sooner we can move forward and continue to improve upon the greatness that already is America.