September 25, 2017 It's been a long time since a group of underdog college kids beat the Soviets on ice at Lake Placid. Or since Jesse Owens sprinted his way to four gold medals while Adolf Hitler watched. Yesterday, Americans probably felt every one of the 16 years that have passed since President Bush walked to the mound at Yankee Stadium to throw out the first pitch after 9/11. They were just games -- but to a nation in crisis, they were so much more. These were the sports that united a country.
Nothing made us prouder to be Americans than the toughness that caused Kerri Strug to stick that impossible landing. Or tore our hearts open like speed skater Dan Jansen's fall when he learned his sister had died. But those moments have never felt farther away than this weekend, when sports was no longer the healer -- but the divider. A storm that had been brewing since the moment quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit out the National Anthem finally boiled over, and for the first time in a long time, the biggest storyline on NFL Sunday had nothing to do with the scores.
Like most Americans, President Trump has watched this year-long controversy unfold with disdain. Tired of spoiled pros insulting his flag and country, President Trump did what President Trump does -- he vented. At a rally in Huntsville, Alabama, he unleashed on the NFL for encouraging players like Kaepernick to protest. He asked fans to send the League a message by turning off the game. "Things will stop. Just pick up and leave. Pick up and leave. Not the same game anymore anyway... Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, 'Get that [expletive] off the field right now. Out. He's fired. He's fired."
Trump got the League's attention alright. Immediately, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and owners across the NFL blasted the president for his "lack of respect for the NFL." But respect isn't earned by disrespecting those who defend our freedoms. And while I think President Trump could have delivered his message more artfully, I agree with his sentiment. As someone who was willing to fight for the very freedom these players are exercising, I don't dispute their right to protest. But they'd do well to remember where those rights were earned: under the same flag they're disgracing. FRC's Lt. General Jerry Boykin takes that personally.
"I served the nation in uniform for over three and a half decades, and I served in part so that these players could choose to disrespect the traditions, history, and sacrifices of a great nation. But I find it disgusting and disturbing that men like Kaepernick, who are living the American dream embodied by our flag and anthem, are so determined to belittle and denigrate the veterans and men and women currently fighting to ensure the continuance of that very dream."
Maybe these players believe that making the National Anthem the villain of a centuries-long racial divide makes a powerful statement. But in the process, it shows contempt for far more than President Trump. It dishonors the black airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines who've come home in caskets draped with those very stars and stripes. And I suppose most teams were too busy sitting out America's proudest tradition to realize that Sunday was Gold Star Mother's Day, set aside to honor the moms whose military sons and daughters paid the ultimate price. How many of those grieving women watched the NFL's demonstrations with tears streaming down their face at these players' ungratefulness. How many veterans who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan tuned in wishing they could stand for anything ever again?
In a day where the halftime talk wasn't about missed catches or interceptions, there were some moving snapshots of the pride so many have forgotten. There was the image of the Pittsburgh Steelers's Alejandro Villanueva -- a West Point grad and Army Ranger -- who stood all alone outside the tunnel, his hand over his heart while the Star Spangled Banner played. While major networks were an anti-Trump echo chamber, fans fought back, heeding the president's call to boycott. At the Patriots game in Foxborough, boos rained down from the stands, along with shouts for the players to "stand up!" Others pushed back on the double standards on social media with pictures of Coach Joe Kennedy or Tim Tebow, who were mocked or outright punished when they took a knee... in prayer.
Rev. Franklin Graham called on America do exactly that, saying that getting on our knees before God would make a real difference in this splintered country. He's right. I think we do need to pray to unite -- but we also need to spend our money in ways that reflect our values. Just as the NFL has a right to turn their back on the flag, you have a right to turn your back on the NFL. Fans may not be able to change the players' culture, but they can refuse to participate in their anti-Americanism. In a business where the bottom line should be the bottom line, your voice makes a big difference.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.