NFL protesters vs. fallen Green Berets

by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET) October 24, 2017

It became more difficult this past weekend to tolerate the NFL's national anthem kneelers and avoiders - the latter including Tennessee Titans' Rishard Matthews on "Monday Night Football" who, for the third time, opted to remain off-field while the anthem played.

As these players disrespect a flag most of us cherish, coffins of three Green Berets draped with it returned home for burial.

While on patrol in Niger, the Green Berets were caught in an ambush by a larger force affiliated with ISIS. Two others were wounded, and five Nigerian soldiers killed. Part of an 800-man U.S. contingent in Niger, they were helping train its military to defeat Islamist forces.

It is doubtful any NFL protesters even know where Niger is or why a U.S. presence there is needed. Along with Chad and Mali, Niger shares geopolitical importance in cutting off transit routes for Islamic terrorists accessing Europe and the West.

Each of these Green Berets, courageously confronting Islamist evil, accepted their duty to contain it there, rather than leave Americans to confront it here. One wonders if any of this registered with the NFL protesters.

For most, concern for the underlying issues of their "cause" is fairly painless, limited to the few minutes spent waiting for the national anthem to play. They then play ball as if having done nothing to offend the majority of viewers. Interestingly, players who wallow in fan loyalty shrug off any comparable loyalty on their part for flag and country.

Hillary Clinton recently said of these protesters, "Let's be clear, those players aren't protesting the national anthem or the flag. They're protesting racism and injustice, and they have every right to do so."

While players do have every right to exercise free speech, Clinton failed to address whether racism and injustice allegations were truly justified and, in any event, whether dishonoring the flag and national anthem to get that message across was appropriate. Both her statement and the players' actions dismiss the fact most Americans simply are not racist - evidenced in 2008 and 2012 by an electorate's willingness to elect a black president.

But clearly, NFL protesters lack concern over the collateral damage impact their actions have upon most viewers.

It would be interesting to ask them to put a little more time into their cause by engaging in debate to factually support their actions.

Obviously, this will never happen. As such, these protesters will remain clueless regarding the validity of their underlying protest issues. It is quite easy to take a knee to the anthem; it is more difficult to defend reasons for doing so.

Unfortunately, the protesters ignore a poignant observation made by Dr. Martin Luther King's niece after San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick first started the kneeling fad: "America is not racist. (But) there is racism in America."

If racism is not a sin of all America but only a small intolerant portion, why alienate the vast majority supporting racial equality by dishonoring the flag that majority honors?

Consider the issue of inter-racial marriage. In the mid-20th century, only 4 percent of Amerians supported it; by 2013, 87 percent did. But protesters seek to portray a racial intolerance trend of epic proportions that is non-existent.

Similarly, concerning white-on-black police violence, while isolated incidents occur, it is unfair to condemn all police officers for the egregious acts of a few bad apples.

In exploring this issue further, some protesters might cite 2015 statistics showing blacks, while representing 13 percent of the population, were victims in 26 percent of fatal police shootings; whites, representing 62 percent of the population, were victims in only 50 percent.

However, earlier government statistics reveal blacks were involved in 62 percent of the robberies committed, 57 percent of murders and 45 percent of assaults within the 75 biggest counties in the country.

NFL protesters conveniently ignore the "cause and effect" relationship. Focusing on "effect" - i.e., the 26 percent of fatal police killings involving blacks - they ignore "cause" - i.e., blacks' historical involvement in a vastly disproportionately higher number of violent crimes.

Sadly, lacking factual justification, protesters spark further controversy, inappropriately choosing to dishonor a flag most Americans, supporting racial equality, embrace. America's normally silent majority now is speaking out on this proclaiming, "We stand for the flag and kneel for the fallen."

It is no wonder this week's "Monday Night Football" prime-time game hit its lowest season viewership.

Unfortunately, young people tend to view these players as role models. This has led to the unthinkable occurring at an elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia, where patriotism was seen as a vice rather than a virtue. After two boys stood in class to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, classmates bullied them.

Another reason it is unfortunate these players, by virtue of being provided a national stage, are viewed as role models is that, on average, one NFL player is arrested every seven days. Yet America's real heroes remain in the shadows in places like Niger.

Unsurprisingly, protesters' actions convey a negative message to young people about America and its values. Today, among 33.4 million Americans eligible by age to serve in uniform, a limited pool of only 136,000 - or 0.004 percent - exists after factoring in quality, standards and interest. Meanwhile, America's false heroes do little to focus the spotlight on the real heroes deserving of our young people's adulation.

NFL protesters might try learning a lesson about respecting the flag from two Florida 11-year-old boys. Responsible for retiring their school's flag at day's end, they smartly did so in a driving rain, even taking the time to fold it 13 times as formal protocol requires.

George Orwell observed, "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf." The three Green Berets we lost last week were of that breed. Ironically, it is their sacrifice that allows these NFL players to "sleep peaceably" at night. They do so, unaffected by the slap in the face they deliver by disrespecting the flag for which such "rough men" valiantly died.

A version of this piece also appeared on http://www.wnd.com/   

Lt. Colonel James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Ret.), is a retired Marine infantry officer who served in the Vietnam war, the U.S. invasion of Panama and the first Gulf war. He is the author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will--Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields," "Living the Juche Lie: North Korea's Kim Dynasty" and "Doomsday: Iran--The Clock is Ticking." He frequently writes on foreign policy and defense issues.


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