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  • Writer's pictureJeff Utsch

Don’t Make Them Stand by Jeff Utsch

The title, “Don’t Make Them Stand,” may suggest that I’m in favor of those NFL players who kneel or, in today’s parlance, “take a knee,” during the National Anthem.

On the contrary.

I would have supported making those players stand, just over a year ago, while this protest was in its infancy. But my views have changed.

A year ago, the problem was not widespread. A year ago, this could have been handled the same way any corporation manages employees.

A year ago, we didn’t know the extent to which players disrespected that which has given them so much. A year ago, many expected this would go away, as we hoped owners, players, families and fans would enlighten the misled, disgruntled few.

A year ago, we thought those protesting would grasp that there is no rampant police racism in this nation. We thought players would realize most Americans are not racists and want what is best for all.

And we hoped players would learn that we stand for the ideals that the flag represents, as summarized in our Declaration of Independence, and to respect those who have sacrificed to defend them.

We thought our heroes in the league loved this country and the opportunities it has given them more than the peer pressure would push them the other way. We thought that our uniquely American game was the one place we could unite on the common ground of football passion.

We tried to understand what those kneeling were expressing — and how they were going about it.

We pleaded with those kneeling to find another way to protest, so those of us who loved the game didn’t have to choose not to watch.

A year ago, we could still watch some football while still clutching those hopes.

Now that hope is gone. Now the time has passed. There is no decision to be made. The league, the owners, the players, the families, the friends, the fans and our nation have not been able to bring about the changes anticipated.

The choice is now clear.

Now we realize the ugliness of the situation and how deep the problem has become. Now we can see how false narratives can be so damaging and divisive.

Now we see what happens when good people do not stand up early and say, “Enough!”

Now it is clear that the divide in this nation spreads quickly between those who believe that we are mostly good, and proud to be American, and those who believe we are mostly bad.

It is clear now that the NFL has been hijacked by those with a political agenda and that many do not want to take the time and effort to be educated. They are, rather, content to listen to the poison of half-truths.

Now it is obvious how deep the culture war has become. It’s become clear that we’re in a struggle for the essence of our nation.

To make the players stand at this point is meaningless. The cat is out of the proverbial bag.

How can we watch a game played by so many who resent and show disdain for the country?

How can we support those who spit upon our very fundamental traditions and beliefs?

The only way I can ever watch again is if the players are allowed to decide for themselves and stand only when they want to stand.

When every player stands and recognizes the blessings and opportunities he has been given in the United States, I will watch.

When every player is educated about the history of our nation, yes — the bad, but also the GOOD, and the strides we have made in equal rights — I will watch.

When every player stands because they believe in the American creed that “all men are created equal” and recognizes that even with all our faults this nation always shoots for the ideal and we never rest until we get there, I will watch.

When every player actually does something productive in their own communities to help with whatever issue they are protesting, I will watch.

When every player stands and shows reverence to the thousands who’ve sacrificed and died on his behalf to gain and maintain his freedoms, I will watch.

We are all capable of offering reasons we are dissatisfied with our country. Healthcare, government regulation, tax code, poverty, immigration, violent crime, drug war, and foreign policy to name just a few.

We could all find reasons to kneel, but we don’t because that is not the way to effect change.

At the same time, protesting the one thing that brings us all together and represents the IDEAL of what America should be is not the honorable and respectful approach that wins on the field of decency.

My first response to those kneeling was anger. Then, as I thought about it, I realized that most of them have never been taught our history; understand the strides we have made; or know the sacrifices so many have made for us all.

Now I feel sorry for them. Truly, I feel compassion for them as well.

But just as a parent does with his children whom he loves, this approach does not preclude chastising and reproving players for the thoughtlessness and ignorance they manifest. It cannot be tolerated without consequence. That consequence though is not to make them

stand, but to help educate them so they WANT to stand.

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