Monday, August 29, 2016



Freedom isn’t free, as evidenced by the many who fought to obtain it, defend it or reclaim it and paid the ultimate price. That’s the cost of living in a so-called free country and the benefits extend to all: those who put their lives on the line and those who remain on the sideline.

A fantastic high school basketball tournament takes place in Fort Myers, Fla., every December just before Christmas. I covered the City of Palms for several years, watching future NBA lottery picks like John Wall, Greg Monroe and Kevin Love as big-time coaches like Roy Williams, Rick Pitino and Billy Donovan flocked to the small gymnasium.

Among the tournament’s annual attendees were a few men who sat on the front row and chose to remain seated during the national anthem. This was their custom and no one seemed to mind until one year, when someone yelled from the other side of the court: “Stand up!”

Being that this is a family publication, I must paraphrase here. But one of them responded: “Go serve a tour in Iraq like I did! I’ll sit if I want to!”

The loudmouth had no comeback. But I’m sure some of the folks ripping 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick would have a retort for the conscientious objector. Which shows the absurdity of using the national anthem as a litmus test for patriotism.

Kaepernick struck a nerve with his protest and vows to continue sitting no matter how much flak he catches. I’m already tired of the brouhaha, but find some of the responses comical. Minnesota Vikings guard Alex Boone intimated that the situation might have turned violent if he and Kaepernick were still teammates.

“See, I’m a very emotional person,” Boone told reporters Sunday. “So, I think if I had known (about it), my emotions would’ve been rolling. I think we would’ve had a problem on the sideline. And I get that he can do whatever he wants. But there’s a time and a place. Show some respect and that’s just how I feel.”

Yes, getting into a fight during the anthem because someone expressed their freedom is the perfect way to show honor and respect for said freedom.

Everybody feels some kind of way about Kaepernick’s action. I’m glad so many commentators have defended the quarterback’s right to sit out, but I’m baffled by critics who suggest he makes too much money or plays too poorly to complain about anything.

The fact that Kaepernick is paid an eight-figure salary doesn’t mean he should close his eyes to what’s happening in society. Concern for your fellow man shouldn’t end once you reach a certain income level. British philosopher Edmund Burke said “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

That includes wealthy good men, too.

As for his performance, the former Super Bowl QB has sunk to a level where he can’t even beat out Blaine Gabbert for the starting job. But, again, a player’s efficiency shouldn’t bear on his moral compass, steering him away from areas where his conscience senses injustice. Unless an unprincipled life is the goal.

He would have a bigger platform as a big star, though his position (quarterback) and the subject at hand (racism) have amplified the message to Tom Brady-levels. I suppose the New England passer would be told to “love it or leave it,” too, if he dared magnify some of our country’s faults.

You should realize that’s it possible to love your country and hate the history. To love freedom and Uncle Sam but detest slavery and Jim Crow. To respect soldiers but revile rogue cops. The dichotomies are stark and plentiful.

Some wonder how it’s possible to NOT have a love-hate relationship with this land of opportunity and oppression.

My colleague Thom Loverro argued that Kaepernick has the right to his demonstration, critics have the right to their opposition and neither side should be attacked for their respective stances.

I’d like to take it a step further and ask that everyone focus on the real matter at hand — the repeated instances of society deeming black lives irrelevant — as opposed to what happens during a questionable sports tradition that lacks merit but is too entrenched to disappear.

The issue isn’t whether Kaepernick stands, sits, sings, dances, covers his eyes or puts his hand over his heart during the national anthem.

The issue is what’s happening in the streets, courts, schools, banks, employment centers, housing offices and corridors of power.

His two-minute rebellion prior to kickoffs won’t change that.

My regret is that so many people are so agitated and distracted by Kaepernick sitting down, they are incapable and/or unwilling to examine the reasons for his decision, the occurrences that sprout around the country on what seems like a weekly basis.

I don’t know why those Iraq veterans chose to remain seated for the “Star-Spangled Banner” at the City of Palms tournament. But they fought for a freedom that entitles us to govern ourselves as we see fit.

That can mean getting bogged down on Kaepernick’s protest.

But our country is better served if we expend that energy and emotion on the driving forces behind his protest.

• Deron Snyder can be reached at deronsnyder@gmail.com.

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