This Thanksgiving, we want our NFL back

Like millions of Americans, I plan to watch football on TV on Thanksgiving – in my case, the New York Giants versus the Washington Redskins. But if I see players protesting during the playing of our national anthem and disgracing our flag, I’m turning off the TV.

Enough is enough.

Sports are supposed to be a healthy diversion, free of politics. They are designed to bring us all together – regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or political beliefs – not divide us. We admire and enjoy watching highly paid competitors because of their athletic skills – not their political beliefs.

The ancient Greeks used the Olympic Games to bring diverse city-states together. In 1896 the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens to do this for the world.

On Thanksgiving, of all days, they should be giving thanks for their ability to make more money in one season than many Americans make in a lifetime of work.

But now we have athletes in the National Football League refusing to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” and we are supposed to applaud them for it? On Thanksgiving, of all days, they should be giving thanks for their ability to make more money in one season than many Americans make in a lifetime of work.

The NFL players who think they are doing a moral and courageous thing by taking a knee during the national anthem should be ashamed of what they are destroying. They are showing up to a peaceful celebration of American values and stepping all over it.

There is a place for athletes to protest on their own time. They can command media attention if they stage an event or hold a news conference on non-playing days. They can be interviewed on TV, radio or by publications. They can write op-eds. They make enough money to buy ads to run in any media organization they desire. And they can donate some of their big salaries to any advocacy group they want.

But players should not be protesting while they are being paid to work (even though we call their work “play”). How many of us would still have jobs if we held protest demonstrations at our workplaces, while we were being paid to do work?

More importantly, protests should not occur at a place where Americans of every background and a broad range of political beliefs come together to cheer or jeer at teams in contests of athletic skill.

Protesting the American flag at a game is an insult to the men and women in our armed forces who have risked their lives – and in some cases died – bravely fighting for our freedoms.

It is an insult to the coming together that happened in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621 on the first Thanksgiving.

It is an insult to the many struggles black athletes have waged against the evil of racism to win their American and God-given rights.

It is as if the protesting NFL players have learned nothing from Jesse Owens’ 1936 appearance at the Berlin Olympics. Even some at the NAACP wanted the immensely talented black athlete to decline to compete in the games, to protest the racist and anti-Semitic rule of the Nazis at a time when African-Americans were discriminated against at home as well.

Owens went anyway and ran and jumped right through racism. He won four gold medals in track and field events and broke two Olympic records. He became famous around the world. He showed that the concept of white supremacy was not only evil, but absurd.

So now we have three NFL games scheduled for Thanksgiving Day. These games are on to draw an audience that has been leaving the NFL because the league has been abandoning them and their values.

Many in this audience, if they do tune in during this holiday, will be sitting on couches in living rooms across America with relatives of many different political affiliations. There will be a smell of roasting turkey and baking pies in the air as generations gather in celebration of family on a national holiday that once brought Native Americans and Pilgrims together.

Now, will NFL players take a knee to all that? Or will they grow up and let sports, as only sports can, heal divisions between us?