By Barry Hirstius – Contributing Writer
PATRIOTISM. In the official Webster’s Dictionary, patriotism — or the act of being patriotic — is defined as “love for or devotion to one’s country”. For the New Orleans Saints NFL franchise and its fiercely loyal and unbelievably passionate ‘Who Dat Nation’ fan-base however; they’ve recently found out the definition of that word at times, can mean many different things to many different people.
Just who exactly is the actual “moral authority” on such matters? Who gets to tell us just how we are supposed to “properly” express patriotism?
Is it Almighty God? Pope Francis? Your local priest at your neighborhood church? Your local or state police? The 4-Star U.S. Army General at the Pentagon? Your parents? Maybe your spouse or kids (or Grandkids in my case), even?
Obviously, the President of the United States is one — but we’ll come back to him later on in this story; since he’s the one largely responsible for just why the definition of “patriotism” as we’ve ALWAYS previously believed it to be, is now suddenly being redefined to begin with.
For me personally, I felt that the best way of expressing my “patriotism” was by serving in our nation’s military; which I proudly did from 1986 to 1990 as a member of the United States Air Force fresh out of high school.
And while I certainly didn’t do or achieve anything of significance during my brief tenure, I did get to “see the world” while serving overseas over in Europe for the majority of that time; in what back then was still known as ‘West Germany’ — which was the free nation backed by the United States in opposition to the communist nation of ‘East Germany’, supported by Russia (or the “Soviet Union”, as it was known back then); after the country of Germany was divided up after World War II.
My proudest moment of all: watching the “fall” of the Berlin Wall in late 1989, which would ultimately lead to the reunification of Germany the following year in 1990.
Hard to believe that was almost 30 years ago.
So now that we’ve established what makes me more than qualified to question WHY the definition of “patriotism” has been undergoing a metamorphosis of monumental proportions, let’s look at how the ongoing NFL player protests of the past year to oppose racial inequality and police brutality, have been twisted into something that it clearly wasn’t intended to be.
This upcoming 2018 NFL season could be memorable in more ways than one for the Saints and their fans, who collectively are tackling the issues that are now surrounding the League and its ever-changing policy on the National Anthem prior to the beginning of games, from many different sides.
But the problem is, who is actually on who’s side?
It changes constantly by the minute, and it even has some long-time supporters of the team that have worn Black and Gold memorabilia for the better part of their entire lives, going at each other’s throats like two warring enemies when they’d otherwise be reveling and celebrating the Saints franchise together in an eternal state of “Who Dat” bliss.
From my own perspective (and the main reason I agreed to cover this story) is that as a nation in the past few years (and particularly after all of the vitriol associated with the 2016 Presidential Race), I believe that we have lost the capacity for civility — which is when you try to continue being nice and respectful to someone, even if you DON’T agree with them or their personal views.
Political points-of-view have now suddenly become so mean-spirited and offensive, that we all need to take a step back, reassess the situation, and tone down the rhetoric. Addressing someone in such a manner is completely disrespectful and totally unnecessary.
Recently in fact, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer called such vitriol un-American, saying: “If you disagree with someone or something, stand up. Make your voice heard. Explain why you think they’re wrong, and why you’re right. Make the argument. Protest peacefully. If you disagree with a politician, organize your fellow citizens to action and vote them out of office. But no one should call for the harassment of political opponents. That’s not right. That’s not American.”
In other words, we can “agree to disagree”, without being rude or mean to someone.
But what is it exactly, that people from all sides of the National Anthem issue are in actual disagreement about?
It all stems from what the REASON that some people believe NFL players have actively been protesting up to this point.
So with that in mind, I’m going to examine a variety of different takes from all over the country on this whole situation, including from a few Saints players themselves — and then you as the reader can ultimately decide where you stand (or don’t stand) with what likely will become a polarizing issue yet again this season.
As reported initially by New Orleans Advocate writer Joel A. Erickson, the national anthem briefly took center stage in NFL news again during the recently-completed 2018 NFL Pre-Season; when two Miami Dolphins players, including former Saints receiver Kenny Stills, kneeled during the national anthem.
Additionally, Philadelphia Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist during the anthem, and a few players around the league stayed in the locker room during the anthem to protest racial inequality, police brutality and the NFL’s pending policy, a policy that would fine teams for player protests during the anthem but allow players to stay in the locker room during the playing of the song.
As Erickson then noted: President Donald J. Trump tweeted his disapproval the next day.
No Saints protested during the anthem or stayed in the locker room in any of the team’s recent Pre-Season games, and the team is still awaiting the resolution of negotiations between the NFL and NFL Player’s Association on the league’s new rule before making a decision as a team.
Erickson points out that members of the Saints have only protested during the national anthem once, before their Week #3 win over the Carolina Panthers last fall on a Sunday when players around the league protested in response to Trump’s attack on the players earlier that week.
So what do the Saints players themselves think about all of this?
Earlier in the week as this article was being composed and put together, I once again had the privilege to speak with Saints middle linebacker Demario Davis, whom as some of you might recall was the topic of my featured article in last month’s August edition (click HERE to read) for his humanitarian efforts with helping immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border a few months ago.
I asked Demario what he and his teammates think about the situation, his thoughts on whether he felt former San Francisco 49ers stars (and presumed “leaders” of the player protests) Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid are being “blackballed”, and if he had any personal thoughts about what has led to the divisiveness between those who support the player protests and those who feel it’s an act of disrespect to the American flag and its associated institutions (like the National Anthem).
“There’s been a conversation about what we’re going to do as a team so that we can all be on the same page together. But with regard to Colin and Eric, I just think that teams don’t want the distraction. A bigger problem is that those who are against them, don’t truly understand why they are protesting.”
“It was never about disrespecting the flag or the National Anthem, but about bringing attention to the issues that are going on inside of African-American communities across the country; such as police brutality, social injustice, and disparity in education, to name a few. The main goal was to bring awareness to those issues.”
“I think it’s a lot like the Tim Tebow situation a few years ago. He brought attention to something else outside the game (religion), and that eventually was seen by some as a hindrance instead of something positive.”
BARRY: What do you think needs to happen moving forward, to bring people — and football fans in particular — back together on such a polarizing issue as this has become?
DEMARIO: “There needs to be more focus on looking for solutions, that’s a big part of it. Everything has become so sensitive now, and there needs to be an emphasis more on unity instead of division.”
“But that can only happen when we try to understand each other, and willingly put our differences aside. Even if we don’t agree or see ‘eye to eye’, we can still respect each other.”
Davis isn’t the only Saints player to give his thoughts on the NFL-Anthem issue.
Just a few weeks ago, All-Pro defensive end Cam Jordan responded to a pair of tweets from President Trump with his own criticism of the President; after Trump — who has previously called for the NFL to fire players who protest during the national anthem — posted two tweets on his official account in response to the protests in a handful of games during the 1st week of the 2018 NFL Pre-Season earlier last month.
The NFL players are at it again – taking a knee when they should be standing proudly for the National Anthem. Numerous players, from different teams, wanted to show their “outrage” at something that most of them are unable to define. They make a fortune doing what they love……
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2018
…..Be happy, be cool! A football game, that fans are paying soooo much money to watch and enjoy, is no place to protest. Most of that money goes to the players anyway. Find another way to protest. Stand proudly for your National Anthem or be Suspended Without Pay!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 10, 2018
Jordan responded to Trump with his own series of tweets and pointedly asked Trump why he had chosen to say nothing about the “Unite the Right” rally scheduled for that particular weekend in Washington, D.C., on the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville rally that erupted into violence.
Guy who won the presidential election… how about we get a statement on the “unite the right” rally 2 being held in DC this weekend… a yr after the first one in Charlottesville??? https://t.co/uPSLYkB2z5
— cameron jordan (@camjordan94) August 10, 2018
Only way to say it. What a Goober. He is who I thought he was. Guy is 70+ yr old acting out in what was once the highest respected political position, as a overly insecure prepubescent child…
— cameron jordan (@camjordan94) August 10, 2018
Surprisingly and what probably would have been unthinkable not all that long ago, there were several Saints fans who posted Tweets on Jordan’s Twitter account; with more than one emboldened fan wanting to argue with him about his views.
Jordan responded to one angry fan specifically, even offering to buy the fan’s season tickets and donate them to charity. A few short hours later, he responded to another by telling him he planned to focus even more on the children’s charities where he volunteers when the fan questioned Jordan’s own commitment to his community.
Many former NFL players have also been very supportive on the issue; with former Saints wide receiver Donte Stallworth‘s recent Retweet of Democrat Texas U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke‘s brilliant speech and what the player protests are actually about, being a perfect example.
It’s really this simple. pic.twitter.com/jZpTbPdVJJ
— Donté Stallworth (@DonteStallworth) August 22, 2018
But the underlying theme that has led to the whole current NFL-National Anthem issue, and particularly for those who are vehemently against the protests (very much like those Saints fans posting Tweets in response to Jordan’s original Tweet) goes right back to my point at the very beginning of this story:
Patriotism, or in the views of some: a lack of patriotism.
And for those who see a more sinister reason behind the protests: a Liberal agenda of hating America and President Trump.
But — does anyone honestly believe that any of the players actually HATE their own country? What would lead them to believe something that seems so improbable?
Yes, the players are angry about the issues that affect them, their family and friends, and their community.
But HATING America? If that seems a bit extreme, maybe it’s because that is.
Turning Point USA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded on June 5, 2012 by Kirk. The organization’s mission is to identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.
Since the founding, Turning Point USA has embarked on a mission to build the most organized, active, and powerful conservative grassroots activist network on college campuses across the country. With a presence on over 1,300 college campuses and high schools across the country, Turning Point USA is the largest and fastest growing youth organization in America.
But the scope of their influence extends far beyond college campuses and America’s “conservative youth”; and Kirk is a huge force that drives it.
Recently, Kirk Tweeted to his base of followers on Twitter what he felt was the “real reason” behind the player protests, although not everyone agrees with his assessment.
Athletes kneeling for the National Anthem say they are protesting police brutality@theOfficerTatum pointed out that only 13 unarmed Black people have been killed by cops in 2018
These protests aren’t about that, they’re about hating America and hating Trump
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) August 19, 2018
However, while not everyone necessarily sees the issue from that extreme point of view, the core argument that the protests are misguided remains a prominent theme among Republican-leaning voters (and of course, an overwhelming majority of Trump supporters).
Wall Street Journal writer Andrew Beaton says that with less than a week until the 2018 NFL season kicks off, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows that interest in the league remains far lower than it once was, and fans are deeply divided over player protests during the national anthem.
Beaton notes that the numbers paint a problematic picture. Fewer people, in particular Republicans, are following the NFL closely than they did four years ago. And many of those fans are the ones who also judge the player protests— which began in 2016 to call attention to social injustices and racial inequality — to be not appropriate.
There is another side to the demographics though, according to Beaton. At 72%, Democrats strongly view the protests as appropriate. In media markets with an NFL team, 49% said the protests are appropriate, versus 47% who do not. And in the crucial 18-to-34 age bracket, there’s an even stronger 56% who said they were appropriate to 41% not.
As a writer covering the Saints daily, I interact with many such people on Social Media; most of whom have no idea that even though I’m likely an “Independent” politically-speaking, I fully support the protests.
Not because I think that kneeling while the Anthem is being played is a great idea per say, but because I think their cause is one that deserves more attention than it has gotten; and also because they are WITHIN THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT under the 1st Amendment (the freedom of speech and the right to protest peacefully).
I served in the military to PROTECT those freedoms; and not to see them taken away, especially by a man who clearly seems to be unfit for the office that he was elected to.
Not all that surprising when citizens elect a failed real estate mogul/businessman and Reality TV star (Trump), to the highest position of power on Earth.
In any event, that often puts me at odds even with many of the very people who read my articles every day.
It can lead to some rather awkward exchanges; which prior to Trump’s election, was something that I never had to worry about.
Then, of course, there are Saints fans like Billy Carpenter.
A 50-year old Long Beach, Mississippi resident and long-time Saints supporter, Billy and I often have some rather interesting and thoroughly entertaining exchanges on Twitter — and although we might find ourselves “agreeing to disagree” on a handful of topics (which politics certainly is one), we have a standing mutual agreement in place to ALWAYS REMAIN RESPECTFUL and civil towards each other.
Knowing that I was going to cover this story, I wanted to give him a voice as well; because I believe it’s important that we at least LISTEN to one another, before making assumptions.
And what does Billy think about the Anthem issue, and why doesn’t he support the player protests?
I’ll allow him to explain it in his own words.
“It’s often been said that the NFL protest, started by Colin Kaepernick, was never about the flag. This narrative has been pushed by players and the media with little push-back. The fact of the matter is that Kaepernick is on record saying that he can’t stand for a flag that he doesn’t respect.”
“He later made another statement in which he said that he will not stand for a flag in a country that suppresses people of color. Either way, any reasonable person can clearly see that he made it about the flag.”
“It’s been said that Kaepernick loves America and only wants to see change. But the man wore a Fidel Castro shirt. Fidel is a brutal dictator that has killed his people and thrown them in jail over free speech. What kind of change is Kaepernick looking for? Who wants to follow a man that is a fan of Castro?”
“He also wore “pig-themed” socks to practice, which paints all cops as “pigs”.
“Kaepernick’s girlfriend posted a picture that portrayed Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Biscotti as a slave owner and Ray Lewis as a “house negro”. Did Kaepernick ever speak out and say that he didn’t agree with the girlfriend? No. No he did not. What team needs that kind of drama?”
“NFL players have said many times that there’s a systemic problem with cops killing unarmed Black men. The truth is that 17 unarmed Black men were shot by cops in 2017. There were 19 unarmed Black men shot in 2016. More White unarmed men have been shot over the same time period. The numbers do not match the narrative.”
“It’s also said that Black men are jailed in much larger numbers than their 7% population represents. That’s true. But there’s a logical explanation. And while Black men make up only 7% of the population, they still commit 52% of all violent crime.”
“Just look at the murders in New Orleans alone. Who is committing the vast majority of those murders?”
“There’s a debate to be had on why those stats are what they are, but we first must set the record straight and stop letting the players and media paint a false narrative.”
Whether you find yourself agreeing with Billy’s point of view or not, his take on the whole NFL-National Anthem issue is one that’s shared by millions of people with a similar train of thought: which is that by protesting during the playing of the Anthem, players that do so are WILLFULLY being disrespectful and bringing dishonor by tarnishing some of the enduring symbols of our nation’s history.
Which leads right back to my original point at the beginning of this story, which is:
The New Orleans Saints and their fans are finding out the definition of “patriotism”, can mean many different things to many different people.
Ask yourself: what’s MY definition of “patriotism”?
Are you really a true patriot, in EVERY sense of the word as it’s defined?
Then ask yourself: do the players that are protesting — some of whom lived or grew up with families with an extensive background or history of proud military service — really HATE their own country?
Might they finally be just sick and tired of having been ignored all of these years; and now through their visibility as professional athletes, are trying to bring the public focus towards bettering the lives of ALL American citizens regardless of race, religion, or political views?
Whatever answer you come up with, it obviously reveals a lot more about YOU than it does anything else.
Hopefully someday in the future when this is finally all behind us, we’ll all see this redefining of what it means to qualify as a “Real American” nowadays, through the same set of eyes. And after that?
Then maybe we can get back to the simple days of watching and enjoying the great sport of Pro Football, once again……
Editor’s Note: If you enjoy Barry’s writing, be sure to check out his interview piece on Saints linebacker Demario Davis! Don’t forget to also check out our series on things to do in New Orleans as well as a piece we released today on a controversial movie filmed in New Orleans!