(Letter to the Editor published in the Portsmouth Herald Saturday 9/30):
As a graduate of one of our nation’s military service academies and a retired career officer, I’m dismayed at the backlash we’ve seen nationally against NFL and locally against high school athletes (Traip Academy girls soccer team members) who’ve chosen to use their visibility and our ritualistic public singing of our national anthem before games to attempt to send an important message to their sports’ spectators about the gulf between the ideals to which our nation has always aspired and its reality. Sadly, it’s clear that their message has fallen on willfully deaf ears.
By reality I mean of course the disproportionate death rate that Blacks and Latinos experience in their interactions with police, as well as the well-documented and pervasive prejudice and discrimination they face in our courts, in lending, hiring, promotion, real estate transactions, shopping, driving, walking down the street, etc. I suspect that Mr. Edward Smith of Kittery and others directing ire toward these athletes prefer to willfully ignore that reality – they’d rather not think about the injustice and inequality under the law that our Black and Latino citizens experience every day, and they darn sure don’t want to have to do anything about it.
Rather than cast aspersions on these athletes’ motives and accuse them of disloyalty to the country (and most speciously, of “disrespecting America/the troops.”) I suggest these critics open their ears and hearts to the message their fellow citizens are sending. To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what rotely reciting your feel-good Pledge of Allegiance and singing your stirring national anthem can do for you (give you a warm fuzzy feeling inside), but what you can do to help your country live up to the ideals the American flag represents and to the words of the Pledge of Allegiance that you so unreflectively recite.”
Our troops have long served and fought to defend BOTH the aspirations/ideals of our nation to provide “liberty and justice for all” AND our Constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech/freedom of expression. (Ironically, our Armed Services have long been disproportionately staffed by Blacks and Latinos.) Rather than exhibiting any disloyalty or disrespect, NFL athletes and our own Traip Academy girls are courageously demonstrating their commitment to those ideals and exercising that freedom, rather than sanctimoniously claiming or posturing about them. Thank you girls, I’m glad to have you in our community and proud of your courage.