Editor: Manteca Bulletin,
I’m writing in response to Frank Aquila’s letter, “Stand for the flag, kneel for the Cross”. Aquila states, “The American flag is a symbol of freedom and our national anthem is the song of freedom recognizing those who fought and died for our freedom”.
For someone who repeats the word “freedom” so often in that sentence and who so blatantly wraps himself in the flag, Aquila shows very little understanding of the deeper meaning and symbolism of our flag and the national anthem. Both definitely honor the courageous men and women in the military who serve or gave their lives for our country. But they also enshrine the founding principles and ideals of our country. “Land of the free, home of the brave” is just meaningless jargon if we don’t actually support the ideals behind those words. Aquila dismisses any NFL protests as not being about “Freedom of Speech” because, in his words, “the NFL is a business”. He claims that the NFL doesn’t allow its players “to engage in political protests or political activity while working”, but does not cite the NFL rule book to defend his assertion, as he did to bolster his stance on the national anthem. Even there, his interpretation of rule book pages A62-63 is narrow in scope, since the words “should” and “may”, not “must” or “will” are used, giving leeway to players’ actions. One could debate whether football players are really “working” before the actual game commences on the field. I would agree with Aquila that the football league would probably object to any interruption of the actual game for any type of political statement or protest.
However, freedom of speech is a crucial right that should not be taken lightly or summarily dismissed because one disagrees with a protester’s position or the way he chooses to protest. Just as it was wrong for leftist extremists to prevent conservative speakers from exercising their free speech rights in rallies in Berkeley, even if they took issue with their viewpoint or comments, it is wrong to characterize all NFL players who protest as unpatriotic or disrespectful. I have never adhered to the sentiment “My country, right or wrong” because it implies that any criticism of one’s country is somehow a betrayal. Although I love and support my country, I believes its faults or missteps should be brought to public attention and addressed in an open manner. Acknowledging and correcting mistakes makes our country both better and stronger.
Whether one agrees or disagrees with Colin Kaepernick’s stance on alleged police brutality, his protest, which he clarified publicly, was not meant to disparage veterans, but to draw attention to a cause he felt was compelling and worthwhile. This brings me to Aquila’s bizarre assertion that “These players who exhort their political views in protest at the same time expecting to get paid wealthy checks that America provided them are hypocrites”. He seems to suggest that if you make a lot of money, you should sit down (Or stand up, in this case) shut up, and be grateful. What he defines as hypocrisy, I see as a virtue. Kaepernick’s protest against what he believes is social injustice is the exact opposite of the selfish “I got mine, so why should I care about anyone else?” mentality. Also, on average, football players’ professional careers last three years, during which time they are subjected to the risk of repeated head trauma and many have no guaranteed contract so they can be dropped at any time. Aquila makes it sound like our country personally writes out huge checks to them as if they are lucky and don’t deserve the money. If we examined how much money is involved in football games ,such as T.V. airing rights payments, admission ticket costs, concession stands and merchandise items, as well as the huge money exchanges due to gambling on the games’ outcomes, it would truly be eye-opening and put gifted players’ salaries in perspective.
Aquila advocates that players who want to protest should not “show up on game day, make your statement, and don’t get paid”. That displays a shocking disregard for the well-being and effectiveness of the team as a whole. So if a team’s starting quarterback wanted to protest, he should skip that day’s game? That would be detrimental to the team and unfair to the fans.
Aquila asserts that “Professional athletes are supposed to be examples for the youth of America “ and lumps all NFL players as a “disgrace, except for some few exceptions”. Apparently, standing up for one’s beliefs or championing social justice is frowned upon by Aquila if such beliefs don’t match his views. He shares this myopic attitude with President Trump. The fact is, before President Trump, during a public rally on Friday, denounced NFL protesters as “sons of bitches” who ought to be fired, there were few (about 6, according to The Modesto Bee) protesters during the playing of the national anthem. That number swelled to over 200 this past weekend due to Trump’s intemperate remarks.
Like all of us, he has the right to freedom of speech but since the office of president does reflect on our country as a whole, shouldn’t he consider his word choice before spouting off in public? Words have consequences. His careless words and behavior are what goaded the 200 players to defend their fellow teammates by standing or kneeling in solidarity with them or by not taking the field during the national anthem. For Trump to use such offensive language in a public forum insulted not only the players who protested but cavalierly besmirched their mothers as well. That was highly inappropriate and unacceptable. I will not stoop to President Trump’s level and advocate that he be “fired” because I disagree with his stance or behavior. But to watch him reject thoughtful discourse in favor of appealing to a crowd’s basest human nature as he scapegoats those he disagrees with, is disheartening. To disagree with or be offended by another person’s form of protest is a legitimate perspective. To call for that person to lose his job and to vilify him simply because he doesn’t think like you, is not.