I love my country. I’ve spent years away from my family and the comforts of home to pursue her interests. And I’ve taken the time to understand her history, her cultures and her flaws. That understanding is at the core of my love for her. Honest love is starved by ignorance.
It’s not fragile.
That’s the disclaimer I have to lead with. Or the people who need to hear this most won’t listen.
There’s an interesting phenomenon that we Americans have wandered into when it comes to expressing how much we love and owe our country though. I’m not sure exactly when it happened. But somewhere along the line, we’ve determined that the American people, in their entirety, owe their very existence to the service of arms. The troops.
Any slight or protest against her is an affront to the sacrifices they, the troops, have made. There’s a notion that the only appropriate sentiment towards America is gratitude and all truly grateful Americans should shout down any offenses to the contrary and make it known that we won’t tolerate them; not when those very troops have sacrificed so much in the name of our own freedom.
I’ll let that last word hang for a second. Freedom.
I’ve seen people commit offenses against America. Real offenses. I’ve heard them cheering over the radio when the towers fell on 9/11 as my ship floated helplessly on the other side of the world. I’ve watched them try and succeed in killing my teammates because they were American. I’ve seen them burn more than flags. They’ve burned bodies. American bodies. And yet, we’re still here.
So when a young American athlete, born to a mother who could not care for him and a father who disappeared becomes one of the 10% of foster children adopted through our horribly broken foster care system in America and makes it to the NFL, I marvel at it. So did the foster child that lived in my home. He was his favorite player. And when that American athlete decides not to stand during the national anthem before a football game to express his solidarity with the 90% who didn’t make it out and the many millions more doomed to the dead-end future of our racially disproportionate poor, I don’t lose a lot of sleep over it.
My love of country is not that fragile.
I’m a vet. Colin Kaepernick doesn’t owe me much. He’s a quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. He’ll be paid $19 million this year-if he makes the team. Both of those things have everything to do with the fact that he has once in a generation athletic ability and nothing to do with my service. He wasn’t dependent on me. If I never served in Iraq or anywhere at all, it’s likely he’d still be playing quarterback. That’s the clear eyed truth-for him and just about every American who does what they do today.
He does owe me something though. He’s not entirely off the hook for my service. He owes me his voice. Just about the only thing that has ever moved this country towards right is when people with a voice use it in service of those without one. That’s what Colin Kaepernick owes me and every other vet that hung it out there to protect his right to do it. When so many others in his situation are too scared to risk their sneaker deals to shine a light on the parts of our great country that are still wrong, he owes it to me, to let it fly. That’s what I fought for.
That’s why I served.
I didn’t serve so the collective voices of social media who didn’t serve or never opened up their homes to a poor minority foster child can protect me from his disrespect. Go ahead and tell me why he’s wrong. Tell me why you disagree with him and that you’d like to see him do more than just kneel before a football game. I won’t disagree. But don’t use my service as cause. We’ve got broad shoulders. We’ll be just fine without the outrage. I promise.
I stand for the national anthem to honor my country. But mostly because what’s honorable about her are the people who have done hard, unpopular things in the name of what they believed to be right.
The day we all have to stand for it, is the day we don’t stand for anything at all.