NFL Players take a knee on a day designated to remember, honor and cherish Gold Star Moms

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NFL Players take a knee on a day designated to remember, honor and cherish Gold Star Moms

NFL viewership is plummeting.  Although I’ve heard the league and others put forth any number of reasons from concussions to the games being blowouts (which other than the game in London was entirely disproved this weekend,) but anyone with a functioning brain knows it’s because the NFL used to be an oasis where you could relax and get away from the turmoil of the day.  Now, for better or worse (and I don’t know many arguing for the better) it’s all about how some are kneeling during the National Anthem.

I looked around my Facebook this morning and it seemed like darn near 100 percent of people are boycotting the league, even people who I know are lifelong fans of a certain 5 time Super Bowl Champion team.  They're tired of seeing people making millions of dollars taking a knee during our national anthem when we still have men and women fighting overseas.  I’ll admit I still watch Football, but I won’t watch ESPN anymore because on the rare occasion they discuss sports they usually have hot takes that make no sense and seem to have been made for just drawing attention.

Let me start with one thing that I keep reading which is inarguably false.  The protest of the National Anthem has absolutely nothing to do with the First Amendment.  “Congress shall make no law….abridging the Freedom of Speech.”  People kneeling has nothing to do with that, as Congress has taken no position on it.  If anything it is employer/employee law.  “Free Speech” seems to be a catchall nowadays, but that really isn’t what this is.  The players kneeling are doing it to draw attention to an issue that they think is underappreciated.  You turning the TV off is your right.  And it’s a right that hundreds and thousands are engaging in. 

Rassmussen did a recent survey on the issue, and the league didn’t appreciate the findings:

While the NFL attributes the decline in ratings to the presidential race, a study conducted by Rasmussen Reports shows otherwise. Approximately 1,000 American adults participated in a telephone questionnaire on Oct. 2-3 that revealed nearly one-third (32 percent) are “less likely to watch an NFL game” due to players taking a stand and protesting the national anthem. Thirteen percent want to watch a game because of the protests. Fifty-two percent do not base their viewing choice on the protests at all. But the league executives disagree.

“There is no evidence that concern over player protests during the national anthem is having any material impact on our ratings. In fact, our own data shows that perception of the NFL and its players is actually up in 2016,” the executives wrote in the memo.

Well, now that the election is over, I assume the NFL has rebounded and is as strong a brand as ever, right?  Well, no.

Multibillion-dollar media and entertainment conglomerate, the National Football League, has a new problem on its hands: lowered ratings. Week 1 of the new 2017-2018 season has found the popular U.S. professional sport losing its ranking as the number one spot in households across the country. According to Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser, viewership for the NFL was down 14% on a year-over-year basis.

That’s the lowest level of same-week viewing since 2009.

Against this backdrop, President Trump advised people upset to start boycotting the NFL.  In turn, the NFL players in numbers which dwarf any previous demonstrations took to their knees in discontent.

Safe to say it was a debacle.  I actually watched as Patriots faithful, those of us who went through the lean years where winning 6 games was a Herculean feat, actually BOOED the players who took a knee.  (See below for a former Patriots great who deemed taking a knee as shameful.)

To be honest, it wasn’t so much the protest yesterday that bothered me, it was the fact that it happened on Gold Star Mothers Day.

Each year I visit the grave of a young man from Lovettsville, Virginia named Stephan.  Here’s a video that talks about the last minutes of his life.  It’s long, but stick with it, and hear about Stephan Mace.  (Fast forward to 6 minutes 10 seconds if you are short on time.)

Mace’s Mom is a Facebook friend of mine.  Alas, I’ve never actually met her, but she always comments on pictures of my young family, and I always feel joy when she does.  I know she lost her son, and I can’t even begin to imagine the pain that must cause.  And so when she goes out of her way to comment on my sons or daughter, it just makes me well up with tears.   Every single time.  That someone who gave so much would be interested in my family is humbling.

Imagine getting that visit to your door, or seeing those press releases.  Like this one:

The Department of Defense announced today the death of nine soldiers who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom. They died of wounds suffered when their outpost was attacked by small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades from enemy forces in Wanat, Afghanistan, on July 13, 2008. They were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503d Infantry Regiment (Airborne), 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Vicenza, Italy.

Killed were:  […]

Private First Class Sergio S. Abad, 21, of Morganfield, Kentucky

I never met Sergio, but I know some guys who did, including two Medal of Honor recipients.  He was raised by his Aunt Sol, a beautiful woman who is also a Facebook friend of mine.  Any every now and again when Sol has a tough day, she Facebooks me and asks me to post a video of my daughter just to bring her some measure of happiness.  She may not be a relative, but Sergio was my brother, and if she asks for a video of my daughter, she will get one, even if I have to wake her up, tickle her feet or ply her with sugar, we’re getting that video.  Momma Sol could ask for my jeep and I’d hand her the keys.  Our nation owes her and Stephan’s Mom more than I could ever give.

And so it was really sad for me yesterday.  I don’t begrudge the players doing what they think is right, while I may (and vehemently do) disagree with the way they are doing it.  But to do it on (of all days) Gold Star Mothers Day made me sad right to my core.

But not everyone takes a knee.  You know, we value teamwork but at the same time we also must laud those who do the hard right over the easy wrong, even (or perhaps more so) when they do so alone.  And so, rather than focus on the players who kneeled, I want to single out one who didn’t.

First, from Yahoo:

Mike Tomlin, coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said ahead of the team's game against the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon that his players would not come onto the field during the national anthem to avoid "playing politics" in divisive times.

That seems like a decent idea to be honest.  Having half your team standing and half kneeling doesn’t bring the country any closer together.  And I’m not a huge fan of not following a coach’s decision, or acting differently from the rest of the team.  Or, I should say I wasn’t, until this:

That is Offensive Tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and before he was a football player, he was an Army Ranger in Afghanistan, and a graduate of the USMA at West Point.  And once again, much like their motto, a Ranger Led the Way.  He walked out of the tunnel and sang the National Anthem as he has always done.

And bear in mind he wasn’t doing this as an anti-Kaepernick thing or anything of the sort, as he explained last year:

"I don't know if the most effective way is to sit down during the national anthem with a country that's providing you freedom, providing you $16 million a year ... when there are black minorities that are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for less than $20,000 a year."

"I will be the first one to hold hands with Colin Kaepernick and do something about the way minorities are being treated in the United States, the injustice that is happening with police brutality, the justice system, inequalities in pay," Villanueva said. "You can't do it by looking away from the people that are trying to protect our freedom and our country."

Villanueva wasn’t alone either, Matt Light, former left tackle with the Patriots said he was ashamed at those who kneeled:

Light said he sat with a 91-year old veteran and the wife of a slain SEAL Team 6 member who was at her first NFL game.

“His wife had to sit at her first NFL game and watch what these men chose to do. Her husband died, gave his life up so that they could do that,” Light said. “That’s the reality that these so-called men don’t understand. Is it about their cause or is it about them? If it was about their cause, I could come up with a million different ways for them to really truly change things. If it’s about them, well … you see what happens. The collateral damage is widespread.

“They obviously didn’t think about anybody other than themselves.”

For my part, I will continue to watch the NFL and root for my team, because it’s the one distraction from life I can (usually) count on.  (Other than UMASS basketball which I love beyond all love, but whose losing ways are taking years off my life.)

And while I know that those who kneel don’t do so to disrespect Stephan Mace or Sergio Abad, it’s hard to remember that, especially on a day set aside for mothers who can never hold their sons or daughters again.

Updated: A buddy of mine served with Alejandro, and said he was huge and one of the nicest guys around.  

One quick addendum:  Vanessa Adelson, the mom of Stephan Mace had a post up about the entire thing yesterday that I wanted to share here as well:

So today we have had a lot of negativity about the NFL. Who cares? These people are insignificant in our lives. They don't teach our children how they should behave. That is your job. They don't make you less of a patriot.
That is your job to show America what being a patriot means. Most players do nothing to make this country better. INSIGNIFICANT. Not worthy of my attention.... This is what is worthy. Today is Gold Star Mother's Day. I have had people tag me today, telling me they are thinking of me. This is what I have to say...... GOD PROVIDES! Everyday is "mothers" day for me. I was given the gift of many new people in my life. Many that call me "mom". That is what is SIGNIFICANT in my life.

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Freedom of speech & freedom to protest should be supported. That's what the flag represents. The flag is a symbol of our individual rights. The players & owners that kneel peacefully are kneeling because of injustice & police brutality. They were disrespecting service men & women, gold star families. I'm a veteran too & believe that is why we serviced to protect the right of every American to freely use our individual rights granted us by the bill of rights.

Freedom of speech & freedom to protest should be supported. That's what the flag represents. The flag is a symbol of our individual rights. The players & owners that kneel peacefully are kneeling because of injustice & police brutality. They were disrespecting service men & women, gold star families. I'm a veteran too & believe that is why we serviced to protect the right of every American to freely use our individual rights granted us by the bill of rights.

The flag is a symbol of our individual rights, but it is also a symbol of the UNITED STATES. I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands. If you do not, then please go to a place where you can respect their flag and see if you have more justice and less brutality. I cannot think of a place. Let me know if you find it.

I ask that everyone consider boycott the Super Bowl! If the word gets out now, it would be enough time to ensure there is wide spread support. If the Super Bowl was boycotted in large numbers, it would send the advertisers and owners a message loud enough to clean up there house. Our nation has problems and we know we need to fix them and we are working constantly to make wrongs right, but showing disrespect to our Nation's symbol is no way to do it. I am a retired Army NCO and trust me, whether it is or isn't meant to show disrespect, IT IS! Now, I ask my fellow Americans and Patriots stand with me and turn the TV in an act of solidarity during the Super Bowl! Giving up three hours of football is rough, as I love it just as much as anyone, but OUR NATION deserves better. We all have so many blessings, even our poor are wealthy compared to some of the nations I have been to, yet we gripe and complain and when it doesn't directly interrupt our comfort we look the other way. I ask once more that you STAND UP and turn the TV OFF! God Bless You and God, Please Continue to Bless America!

I have been saying this since I first found out about the disrespect these selfish millionaires disrespect our flag, our anthem, and our country. Heck, and I have lived in China for the last 8 years as an American English Teacher. I respect the American Flag and the people of the country where I was bred and born. while in any foreign land we must remember, respect the locals, we are ambassadors for our country. Mothers and Fathers, teach your children well to respect their elders, their teachers, and their country. Teach them that someday too they will become ambassadors like we once were.

Because you can take the boy out of the ghetto but not the ghetto out of the boy. In other words, they don't know any better. More reason to have compulsory 2 years of military service for everyone once you turn 18, male and female.

the cowards now that neel on the flag should be in the service and really see what it meant to respect our flag , our nation and our country , then they would respect it ...

American citizens have the right to express their ideas as guaranteed by the first amendment of our Constitution. This amendment does not demand nor instruct how or the means of protest. NFL players, being American citizens, have the right to express their ideas and feelings anywhere that is not prohibited or dangerous to others. Kneeling is not disrespect. Silence on issues undermining the American democracy is unpatriotic. The people who founded and fought for our democracy against tyranny were initially condemned by the majority without vision of dangers. I served in the military to perserve and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. There are domestic enemies of our Constitution, and they are not the NFL or NFL players. The enemies may be the people who view their protests as unpatriotic.h

I am a Air Force vet as well as most of my family, I don't agree with the kneeling during our national anthem. During the games the players are employees and the employer should be able to tell them what to do. If they want to protest let them do it on their own time. They are at work, if I tried to do that kneeling crap at my job I would be sent home and more than likely not asked to come back. I will not par take in watching another NFL game ever again. NFL "No Fans Left" i honestly hope the ones that kneel go bankrupt and rot in hell. Thanks for letting me vent!!

Served in Vietnam, why were the Blacks herded into separate units? I think some people need to pay attention to the real world, not TV land.

I don't know where you were but all the units I was in and had personnel contact was ALL American. Check out the picture that the press published.

I keep seeing references to police officers killing people of color, yet I see no reference whatsoever to persons of color killing persons of color; i.e. Chicago. I'm truly stunned by the total lack of outrage on the part of the black community that this carnage continues year after year. I guess police officers are an easier target.


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News from the World of Military and Veterans Issues. Iraq and A-Stan in parenthesis reflects that the author is currently deployed to that theater.