Stacy Washington: NFL players should hand a folded flag to a dead soldier’s family, then consider kneeling

The NFL has a choice to make and it’s an easy one: political activism or sports.  The American people will only tolerate one of those so they had best choose wisely.  There are two prevailing perspectives here and both of them cannot coexist leaving the NFL unscathed.  On one side the NFL players enjoy a league minimum pay of $465,000 a year while their fans earn a median household income of $56,515.  The players lead rarified lives that don’t appear to leave room for understanding just who their supporters are.

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Football devotees utilize their hard earned money to buy $250 jerseys to wear at the expensively priced games, or to purchase a cable subscription to Sunday Ticket or Red Zone to enjoy the game at home with friends and family.  This is can’t-miss activity that some football enthusiasts attend with a regularity resembling church fervor.  But why are fans so devoted to the anthem and flag?  Aren’t they just symbols?

My experience with the flag gives a glimpse into why the majority of Americans will never accept “taking a knee.”  While on Active Duty in the Air Force I had the privilege of serving on the Air Force Honor Guard performing burial services on a team.  The pallbearers would retrieve the casket from the hearse and place it on a stand where we would unfurl a brand new, crisp U.S. flag.  We wore dress blues and white gloves.  As the folding commenced the only sounds were soft sobs, birds chirping and the snapping sound of our gloves making contact with the material of the flag.  With each sweeping motion the sound of mourning would increase a bit in time with the cathartic motions that signified the end of the ritual.

Dishonoring the flag by making it the object of protest, no matter how great the cause, is repugnant and nonsensical.

Sometimes the task of handing over the folded flag would fall to me, and I would cradle the triangle of cloth to my uniformed chest and glide over to the canopy where the family awaited.  On one occasion I handed the flag into the tiny hands of a child of perhaps four or five.  Another time I looked into the red-rimmed eyes of an older woman who thanked me through her tears.  This ceremony takes place countless times around the nation on an almost daily basis as veterans, retirees and active duty service members killed in the line of duty are laid to rest.  These people have a close connection to our flag through the service of themselves or their loved ones. 

Dishonoring the flag by making it the object of protest, no matter how great the cause, is repugnant and nonsensical to these people.  Polling shows that 58 percent of NFL supporters lean to the right politically; Americans who revere both veterans and military service members.  These people love America, making the NFL players' insistence on taking a knee during the national anthem a losing proposition. There are ways to sway a community; defiling a national symbol associated with honor, service, sacrifice and bravery isn’t one of them.  If the NFL continues to indulge the players, declining ratings and lower attendance at games will become the norm.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the team owners must man up:  choose the fans by ending the protests.

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