Not sure if I’ve ever told you, but I happen to be the proud dad of a young man and Army vet who not only served this country but who was severely injured a few years ago while on tour in Iraq. Patrolling the streets of Sadr City, a hell-hole on the outskirts of Baghdad, Shane experienced the horror of running over an IED and the even worse horror of knowing his life might end as a result. You may recognize Sadr City, or ‘Slaughter City’ as some call it, given it was where Chris Kyle spent his last tour of duty. Hell-hole is putting it mildly.
Shane, now 33 and medically retired from the military, suffers every day from PTSD, injuries that have made his body painfully fragile and side effects of various medicines intended to make him better but that rarely do. Yet, despite it all, he never complains, never whines, never regrets. Instead, he holds his head high with a piece of America’s soul embedded in his. Having walked those dusty streets of death and despair, he knows what it means to live on rationed food, survive harrowing combat, search for men eager to blow him to smithereens, navigate mine-filled terrain and to hold a fatally wounded friend as he took his last breath.
Shane is an American hero much like every past and present soldier defending this country is a hero.
It won’t surprise you then to know how loathsome I think it is that overpaid, misguided athletes choose to use the three minutes of our national anthem to express their feigned sympathy for the oppressed. Oh, they can do it, of course, but doing it does not insulate them from folks who find their behaviors profoundly disrespectful and dishonorable. Free speech isn’t free to those who make sure we keep it, and the sooner these malcontents realize such a truth, the more effective they might become. There are countless, better ways to make a point than during the singing of the national anthem. If the message, after all, is to bring attention to the plight of the underprivileged or so-called police brutality then for Heaven’s sake how much more can that message be shrouded by a twisted approach than what’s being done now? You’d think the NFL and its Player’s Association might have noticed that whatever the intended purpose, it’s not working.
Therein is the buffoonery of it all. If anyone wants to make a difference in society then, by all means, find effective ways to do it. If the message is overshadowed by a litany of distracting methods then someone ought to be smart enough to recognize it. Apparently, Colin Kaepernick, Michael Bennet, Aaron Rogers, Roger Goodell and a horde of others aren’t. If these self-appointed martyrs truly intend to permeate the country with a valid, sound message then they wouldn’t continue doing things that distract from such a message. The NFL is on the losing end of this deal and, due to no fault but its own, will suffer the consequences. Those consequences include what we see in real time now - declines in fans, money and stature … and the NFL need only look in the mirror as to why.
My son, who happens to love the Crimson Tide and Pittsburgh Steelers, still watches both. He turns the Steelers on a little after kick-off and enjoys the game as it was meant to be played. His ability to disregard the tactics of a few is part of what makes him an extraordinary young man who’s given so much for an extraordinary country. Pro athletes who choose to disrespect America don’t impress him much and like with all else that he could complain about, doesn’t say a word. It’s as humbling to witness those who have a legitimate reason to complain but don’t as it is maddening to watch those with so much complain about so much.
My hope is that the NFL will one day find its way back to football and its fans. Until then, there remains church, family, a little nap … and a few more cherished calls with my son.