I’ll preface the following with an admission. I am a huge sports fan. As a child, I learned a lot of important life lessons from playing organized sports. I benefited a great deal from coaches that wouldn’t take excuses for poor performance and held me accountable for my own attitude and actions. I learned the value of hard work, sportsmanship, and that the team was more important than the individual.
As a father, I have volunteered to coach several of my sugar donuts’ teams so I could be that kind of role model and impart those same lessons to the players. It’s been more rewarding for me to have quality time with my children and their friends as it has been for any of the kids who played for me. While the kids on the teams have changed, I’ve seen them progress and improve. I take a great deal of pride in seeing their development and when any of them address me as “coach”, especially when I’m in uniform.
As an adult, sports are an escape from reality. Most of my off duty attire is emblazoned with some sort of sports team logo. If I’m working and one of the teams I follow are playing, I make sure to listen to the game on the radio as much as possible. On any given day, I’ll skip the news, but I’m up to date on the win-loss record of my teams and any other important things that may impact their next game.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a collegiate sport, professional sport, the Olympics, or the Little League World Series. If it’s on television and I have a spare moment, I’ll take in as much of the contests as I can. Mrs. Donut has grown to understand that part of me, although I’m sure she’d rather watch just about anything else, she’ll at least humor me by feigning some sort of interest while I sit on the edge of my seat fully involved in a meaningless sporting event.
While I’m admittedly a sports addict, I fully understand that the broadcaster who is commending an athlete for being brave, courageous, or heroic is speaking those words in the context of what is ultimately only a game.
As a man who has spent his entire adult life in a uniform, armed with either a rifle or a pistol and varying levels of body armor, I have seen truly brave, courageous, and heroic acts in the face of actual physical peril. Those actions are nothing like shooting free throws, kicking a last minute field goal, or hitting a walk-off home run. Clanking free throws, going wide right, or striking out for the final out may be a horrible experience for the athlete, but they do not result in the loss of body parts or life.
Athletes bring notoriety to our nation, as evidenced by the impressive medal count piled up by the US Olympic Team in Rio earlier this month. The prolific athletes who excelled in competition to win such accolades were able to do so because they live a life in a nation that holds athletics in high esteem. They came from varied backgrounds, but they came from the United States; a nation that allows for such opportunities.
Athletes who compete at the highest levels make sacrifices and dedicate themselves to performance. Some are blessed with natural abilities and others must overcome their own God-given shortcomings to develop skills and techniques that bring them up to the level of their competition.
In professional sports, these athletes are rewarded handsomely in contracts and endorsement deals that are the size of the gross national product of small nations. They aren’t curing cancer. They aren’t saving anyone’s life. They aren’t producing anything other than entertainment, either in the form of dreams for children who are aspiring to be like them or for adults who can escape reality and stand in awe of their physical abilities.
Our men and women in uniform are paid little and held to extremely high standards. If they place themselves in a perilous situation in order to save lives, they may be awarded some kind of medal or ribbon for their efforts. If they do not survive, someone in their family will receive a folded American flag and condolences from either a grateful nation or community.
I am a combat veteran, but that does not make me special. Thanks to over a decade of war, there are hundreds of thousands of people like me. I have seen men in blood-soaked desert camouflage uniforms that had their young lives snatched away by IEDS or small arms fire in a country that was not theirs. I have had the unfortunate experience of driving a long distance with an officer and a chaplain to deliver a notification that no military family wants to receive. I have carried flag-draped caskets and meticulously folded the flag of our nation. I have fired rifle salutes. I have choked back tears as a single trumpeter plays taps, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
I have attended the funerals of law enforcement officers who were killed by accidents beyond their own control. I have attended the funerals of law enforcement officers who were killed by felonious assaults. I have watched as entire communities have come out to support the fallen officer, his immediate family, and his brothers and sisters in blue as we have escorted his body to its final resting place. I have seen the flag-draped coffin as it is carefully, lovingly placed above the burial site. I have watched as the law enforcement officer’s coffin was exposed and the flag of our nation has been slowly, meticulously transformed into a triangular sea of blue before being presented to a grief-stricken widow.
I have ventured to places inside my own head during these proceedings that I will never be able to verbalize. These aren’t places I like to visit.
None of these flag-draped coffins contained men or women who died specifically for the flag, but the flag itself is a symbol that is greater than the individual it encompasses. These men and women in uniform, either military, police, fire, or EMS, who are laid to rest with flags covering them are absorbed into the very fabric of those flags. They become an intricate and invaluable part of the fabric itself to be remembered forever.
Francis Scott Key wrote what would morph into our National Anthem in a patriotic and emotional moment when he saw that “our flag was still there” after a 27 hour bombardment at the hands of the British while he was being held as a prisoner at Fort McHenry in 1812. Even at such an early time in our evolution as a nation, our flag inspired proud emotions.
As is the case in nearly every other country, as citizens we are expected to rise to our feet and pay homage to our great nation and our flag during the playing of our National Anthem. Since our flag caries the weight of the sacrifices of so many that came before us, and our anthem was inspired by our own colors, it deserves proper respect regardless of one’s political views.
Those who choose to protest whatever social ills they wish by stomping, burning, or otherwise desecrating our flag are not damaging a piece of fabric. They are disrespecting the memory of those who sacrificed everything and were laid to rest in a flag-draped coffin. Those who choose to remain seated during the Star-Spangled Banner are demonstrating their lack of respect for the sacrifices of the men and women who have made our nation great.
If Colin Kaepernick thinks that his failure to rise to his feet in protest of what he believes is a nation of social injustice will do anything other than alienate him from the overwhelming majority of Americans, so be it. It is his right. A right provided by the very men and women he is choosing to disrespect.
If Colin Kaepernick, a man who lives a charmed life because of his physical ability in spite of the color of his skin-believes that he is somehow a victim of societal ills, then perhaps he should visit the 49ers team psychiatrist. In order to have an opinion that matters, one must first get his or hands dirty. Sitting on your ass and disrespecting men and women who have actually demonstrated bravery, courage, and heroism in the face of mortal danger does not an activist make. It does make a classless jackass.
Perhaps Kaepernick is actually using these preseason games to practice what he will actually be doing for the 49ers this season, by riding the pines as the second or third string quarterback.
Let one of the many miscreants in the Bay Area place Kaepernick in fear, and we’ll see who he calls for help. The very men and women he is disrespecting will rush to his aid and save his sorry ass so he can return to the sideline and perch himself on the bench.
It’s time to go patrol the Donut…