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  • Writer's pictureJG .

United We Stand. Divided We Kneel.

A few weeks ago, Drew Brees said, "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America…. When I look at the flag, I envision my two grandfathers who fought for this country during World War II... risking their lives… to make our country and this world a better place." He faced immediate backlash.

Teammate Michael Thomas said, “he don’t know any better.” Another teammate Malcolm Jenkins told him to “shut the f--- up!” Fellow NFL players, JJ Watt and Baker Mayfield both have said they will kneel during the National Anthem in response to Brees’ statement. Brees quickly backtracked choosing to side with his teammates and not acknowledge his grandfathers’ sacrifices.

Drew Brees is not a bad man. He is a socially conscious person, devoting his time and money to help make the world a better place. He won the 2006 NFL Man of the Year award for his charitable efforts, raising millions of dollars to combat cancer, and funding programs for disadvantage youth. In 2010, Drew Brees was named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year "for helping lead the city of New Orleans' rebirth after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina". Yet, when he stated he would stand and honor the United States flag, he morphed into a horrible human being?

This all started on August 26, 2016, when San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the National Anthem to protest police brutality. The reaction was immediate and predictable. There was both strong support for his protest, and outrage against it.

Everybody hates police brutality. No one wants to see unarmed innocent citizens shot and killed by police officers. And most people acknowledge that there are some bad cops in this country who use their badge not to enforce justice, but to create injustice. So, standing up against police brutality should have been an issue that the vast majority of Americans unified around, an issue like standing up against drunk driving, an issue everyone can get behind to create real change. Yet, the country is divided on this issue.

The reason why this issue divides us instead of unites us is that the chosen form of protest presents us with a false choice; when the National Anthem is played, we must make a decision; do we take a stance against police brutality or do we honor our flag and respect our Country. This false choice has unnecessarily divided our nation. I hate police brutality to the core of my being. I love this country to the core of my being. But I am caught in this paradox where I must choose between love of country or hatred of injustice.

We can stand against police brutality and stand up for America. They are not mutually exclusive. Drew Brees should be able to support his teammates cause and honor his Grandfathers’ sacrifice, but he and all of us are forced to choose between the two, and that is dividing our country. As long as kneeling for the National Anthem is the way we are to protest police brutality, we will not unify on this issue. Many people find it difficult to dishonor that which they love regardless of the reason assigned for doing so.

Some of the people who kneel say, you don’t have to kneel, just don’t object to us kneeling. That’s like saying, you don’t have to disrespect your wife, just don’t object to us disrespecting your wife. It doesn’t work that way. Others claim the protest is not disrespectful because it is not about the flag, but it is precisely about the flag. That was the symbol chosen to make their political point. We are also told we can honor the country and our soldiers in other ways, we can also protest police brutality in other ways. And if a more inclusive means of protest were used, the country would not be as divided on this issue as it is. If you want and need unity, then do things to unify, not divide.

How is kneeling to the American flag tied to police brutality anyway? There are many other ways to effectively protest police brutality without disrespecting anyone. We have many social media platforms available to us to express our opinions, to build awareness of many issues. Professional athletes have millions of followers on Twitter and Instagram. Their social media reach is profound, so there was never need to use the National Anthem to create awareness of this issue. Kneeling for the National Anthem is not the only, and clearly not the best platform to make any political point.

I have spoken with soldiers who have served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. One soldier told me, “I gladly risk my life to protect our country, to protect your rights, even your right to dishonor the flag, but every time I see someone kneel for the flag, it cuts into me. It hurts me. It’s like spitting in my face. I will fight so they can do it, but it still hurts.”

Kneeling for our flag is really an ineffective form of protest because it has divided us, not united us. If we had chosen a form of protest that didn’t require a public dishonoring of something that many of us love, there would be almost unanimous support for the cause. Why chose a form of protest that offends many of the people needed to get behind the issue to create the change that is sought? The country is not divided on the issue of police brutality. The entire country believes Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd, and should spend the rest of his life in jail. The country is only divided by this specific form of protest. And the best way to create change in the fight against police brutality is through unity, not division.

If we all kneel to the flag to fight injustice in our country, when will we get to stand and honor the flag and country again? Do you think there will ever be a time in this world, in this country when injustice no longer exists? Even if we were to end all racial injustice and police brutality today, do you not believe that other people are experiencing injustice for a lot of other reasons? There will never be a time when there is no injustice because we are human beings who are flawed, who make mistakes, who sin, who injure. Yes, American history is littered with injustice, but it is also filled with the continual fight and victories over injustice. And it is that fight, and those victories that we honor when we stand for the flag.

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Judd Garrett is a former NFL player, coach and executive. He is a frequent contributer to the website Real Clear Politics, and has recently published his first novel, No Wind

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