GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — It’s one of America’s favorite pastimes, but now professional football is at the center of a political debate as NFL players protest racial injustices by taking a knee instead of standing during the national anthem.
President Donald Trump has issued strong statements against the league, saying America should essentially boycott the NFL if teams doesn’t respect the country.
Veterans in West Michigan have mixed feelings on whether kneeling during the anthem is unpatriotic.
“If I was their employer, I’d fire them,” Vietnam veteran Lloyd Loper of Belding told 24 Hour News 8 Monday.
On the other side of the argument is U.S. Air Force veteran Rick Cable of Caledonia:
“As a veteran I fought for their right to do that,” he said.
They’re both perfect examples of how the debate is dividing even those who have served.
“I don’t think they should sit for the national anthem but as Americans, we have the right to do that if we want to do that,” Cable said. “I can’t say that I should criticize them for doing what I fought for them to be able to do if they want to do it.”
“I don’t mind them protesting but when you involve the country by disrespecting the flag and the anthem, then I think that’s going to far,” Loper said.
Loper said the actions by some NFL players feel personally disrespectful to those who have served and he’s boycotting NFL games.
“I haven’t watched one since the very first, (former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin) Kaepernick. When he took a knee, I haven’t watched a game since,” Loper said.
In an opinion piece printed Monday in The New York Times, Eric Reid, a safety for the 49ers, was adamant that being athletes in the NFL is a platform to “speak up for those who are voiceless.”
“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel,” he wrote. “We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”
However, active military personnel are pushing back.
Army Specialist Matthew Rausch in Grand Rapids sent an email to 24 Hour News 8 that read:
“The flag is bigger than Trump, so I would never kneel during the national anthem. I do kneel on both knees every Sunday though. The past treatment of minorities in this country is terrible and we should learn from it, that being said I still think there are better ways to protest than this. Mixing sports and politics is terrible.”
Here are what some other veterans on social media had to say on the issue:
Carrie Bennington Jones, Air Force veteran from Grand Rapids:
“I feel that when we serve in the military, we take an oath to uphold the constitution. One of our basic rights is that of free speech. Whether we agree with that speech or not, doesn’t take away from the fact that it is their right. I believe that this silent protest is very respectfully done, peaceful, and grabs the attention of millions of Americans. If that sparks the conversation and fires up the changes that need to occur, then it has been a success. As a mother of biracial children, who was stationed down south, I dealt with racism head on. I want my children to live in a world where they are not automatically judged because of their skintone.”
Steve Miller, U.S. Army veteran from Sturgis:
“I served in the U.S Army from 1968-1971 and spent 13 months (69-70) just 10 miles south of the DMZ and North Korea. Living very close to a regime that prohibits so many freedoms which we take for granted has stuck with me through the years. Now, to see the president trying to suppress the 1st amendment rights of the NFL players by calling for them to be fired, strikes me as very wrong. As a veteran, I do not feel dis-respected in the least by the actions of the NFL players. I am proud to know that the constitution and it’s amendments that I served my country to protect are very much alive and well.”
Thomas Fought, active duty Army National Guard:
“As a vet:
“I disagree with the idea, but support the right.
“To me, the flag and anthem represent the hopes, dreams, and goals of Americans, and the future we can achieve. It is disheartening to see others not support that.
“But here’s the thing, it means different things to different people. To some it is the negative aspects we still have. If I proudly stand, it doesn’t mean I support the negativity too.
“This is the problem. Your opinions and beliefs are not concrete facts. They are opinions which are subject to change and an infinite number of definitions and interpretations.
“The right is a fact.
“I stand by the facts, and my PERSONAL opinions/convictions.”
Jake Hamilton, Army veteran from Greenville:
“I fought for their right to kneel. I don’t agree with it but they are doing no harm. I have been boycotting watching nfl games for years now for my own reasons. This kneeling business is just another reason to not watch.”