There is perhaps nothing more symbolic of the tie between our nation’s flag and the military, than a military funeral performed by an Honor Guard.

I should know, I was a Flight Commander for the 8th Air Force, 2nd Bombardment Wing Honor Guard for many years.  I’ve carried caskets draped with the US Flag, folded it, and handed it off to a loved one reciting the all too familiar phrases that began with  “On behalf of a grateful nation….”.

There isn’t a time when the national anthem is played that I don’t look at the flag and honor in my own private way, the military both past and present, because having served in the Military, and during a time of war, I know all too well the cost.

When Collin Kaepernick first drew attention for not standing during the national anthem I had a visceral reaction to it.  I’m a military vet with a son who’s currently on active duty, it just didn’t “feel” right.  Today, with these protests expanding across multiple teams and sports, more attention and more exposure has opened my eyes to the other side of the issue.

Now, the first thing you’ll read or hear about is how this action of not standing during the national anthem is disrespectful to the flag and the military and the country.

The counter point you will hear from the other side is that there is no law that says one must stand during the national anthem and that it is our country’s anthem not something directed towards the flag or the military.

Okay, let’s stop here for a moment.
Technically, that’s true.  There’s no law that says you have to stand.  It’s always been a patriotic thing or a respectful thing to do.  Which, of course, is exactly what the other side is complaining about, being disrespectful or unpatriotic.
So, again, technically there’s no law against it, and certainly as this country was founded there’s no provision in the constitution about it.  So does that mean it has nothing to do with the flag or the military because technically speaking there’s nothing written about it?  I would ask you to consider that whether or not it was originally intended, and whether or not it is written into law, we as a society have connected the three things together.  Hear me out.

At most, if not all, events where the national anthem is played we have a military honor guard present the colors (the flag).  We turn to face the flag.  We honor military members either in person or fallen.  We, as a culture, have made our nation’s anthem as much about the flag and the military just by our customs and culture as by any law that could have directed us to do so.

So whether or not it’s illegal or against the rules is irrelevant. We as a country and a society in America have connected our National Anthem to both the flag and the military whether we meant to do so or not.

Now, before you get too excited, let’s look at “the other side”.

I’m a proud member of the military with a long history in our family of military service.  Every time I carried a casket with a flag draped over it, or presented the colors as part of the Color Guard, or handed a folded flag to a grieving member of a fallen hero, I honored that flag, I respected that flag, I cherished everything that flag stands for.  It bothers me when someone doesn’t stand up or remove their cap, or place their hand over their heart during the national anthem.  I believe in the old fashioned notion of Patriotism (not the crazy new version) and I sometimes cry silent tears when the anthem is played because I’ve been up close and personal with the final result of those who have sacrificed everything for our freedom.

With all of that being said, I never for one instant believed that Colin Kaepernick or any other person protesting by not standing for the National Anthem was in any way disrespecting the flag or the military or even the country for that matter.  It’s very simple really.  You can be a true patriot, someone who loves America and still disagree with something that’s going on in our country.

And that’s what this is all about.  No one who is protesting in American sports is saying “I hate this country and all it stands for.  I hate the Military.  I hate the flag.  I hate it all” though in reading and listening to some of the hate that is directed towards them you’d think that was what is happening.
These people are using a platform that is available to them to peacefully protest something we should all be ashamed of; the inequality of how minorities are treated compared to everyone else.

Do I like that they’re not standing during the anthem?  Not really.  Do I understand why they’re doing it?  Absolutely.

You’ll also hear this notion that they should do it on their own time, not while they’re “at work”.  Let me ask you something.  If you were really upset by something and felt you needed to protest and you had two choices.  Protest silently, alone, where no one will know or hear you, or do it when millions of people will see and hear you, which would you choose?  If you chose the first one, then you’re not really protesting, you’re just complaining by yourself.

We’re a funny country in that we fundamentally believe in our rights to protest something because we have a “right to free speech”, but it makes us uncomfortable when “the other side” from our point of view is doing the protesting.

Are there better ways to protest this issue?  Maybe. I don’t know.  I know that the best protester I have seen to date was a player who was kneeling during the anthem and also had his hand over his heart.  To me, that was both respectful and honorable and at the same time exercising his right to protest.

Either way, we have to honor the freedom we all seem to rally around.  The freedom for someone to peacefully stand up, or sit down, or kneel to protest when they feel something is not right.  AND we have to honor those who feel that this very standing up, or sitting down, or kneeling bothers them because they too have the right to feel the way they do.

Now, here is another OTHER SIDE we should all be thinking about.  We shouldn’t be talking about the two sides of this “protest” at all.  We should be talking about the impetus for the protest in the first place.

We have always been a country who fights for the underdog. We have always criticized injustice around the world, places who don’t allow freedom for its people, or who oppress parts of their populations.  Why is it then, that we seem to be okay with doing it to our own?  Can we not agree that our history has shown us that we have tried to learn from our mistakes of segregation, women’s right to vote etc.?  We can all agree that we still have a long way to go as well, just look at one issue like equal pay for women and it’s easy to see that we haven’t gotten it all right yet.

Perhaps if we stopped arguing over who’s right or who’s wrong in how people are protesting and started looking honestly at what they’re protesting about we could begin an honest conversation about it.  There are multiple sides to this issue of racial injustice and no one side is completely right.

Our flag represents freedom and so many other things.  So too must our ability to understand that The Other Side from our point of view represents just that, another point of view.  We are all Americans.  We can disagree and debate, we can hold differing views and different perspectives; and yet we remain, American’s.  That freedom that the flag stands for includes the freedom to not all think the same.

The moment we try to silence “the other side” that doesn’t agree with our own is the moment we have given up that freedom.