Observations and Reflections within Military/Veteran, First Responder, and Professional Sports Communities


By Dan Bernal

As we approach the 16th anniversary of the horrific September 11th attacks, it is an appropriate time to be mindful in our gratitude for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  It was one of those life-altering events such that people remember where they were and what they were doing at the time of the attack.  The attacks, horror, loss and the fact that we have been a nation at war for sixteen years, while sometimes seemingly forgotten by many Americans, those in service need no reminder.

Athletic competitions have brought the nation together after national tragedies.  From the 1963 Army/Navy game being played at the Kennedy family’s behest following the assassination to Game 3 of 2001 World Series, when the New York Yankees hosted the Arizona Diamondbacks, and President Bush threw out the first pitch, our sports have united a country in mourning.

Today, our United States feel not so united – politically, socially, and economically.  One difference, however, is that our sports, and the National Football League (NFL) specifically, have not been able to serve as a unifier as it is suffering from an identity crisis with its own internal conflicts.  Some observations and reflections are offered to hopefully bridge the divide and promote unity.

In regard to Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem, and the other NFL players that have chosen to do something rather than stand during the Anthem, two thoughts are offered for consideration.  First, if the protest and method of protest are receiving more attention than the subject of the protest, and secondly, if the league is being threatened with boycott by both sides of the argument with regard to the protest, then it might be concluded, in the vernacular of the times, that the current status is #notwinning.

Kaepernick did donate $1 million over the course of ten months to organizations to increase social justice.  Unfortunately, perhaps because conflict and anger receive higher ratings in the media, his philanthropy is less publicized.

One NFL player has commented that any teammate not standing for the National Anthem better be in a wheelchair.  Some NFL owners have been more vocal in their beliefs about standing and rendering proper respect for the Colors and the Anthem, but stop short of making it a pre-requisite for employment.  The league has attempted to please both sides of the argument, resulting in calls for boycott from both.  Prior to the 2016 regular season, the NFL released the following statement:  “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.”

Some Veterans will not watch the NFL until/unless they require adherence to respecting the Colors by standing during the National Anthem.  Others have stated their support for players expressing their freedom to protest; that those freedoms were what the Veteran served to protect.  Others have pointed out that the NFL penalizes conduct during a game, such as uniforms, taunting, excessive celebration, and speech to referees/umpires, so the NFL could regulate employee conduct during the National Anthem.  Prior to 2009, NFL players were not required to be on the field during the National Anthem.  Perhaps, if a player does not want to stand, staying in the locker room would be a better option.

Veterans Reporter News acknowledges the conflict and disagreement within our community, but would encourage all to focus efforts on solutions rather than conflict or debate over past techniques and tactics.  To achieve positive outcomes, the community needs to bond together in the pursuit of collective improvement.   Instrumental in having this conversation is becoming informed.  Beware of those who would advocate conflict or violence over resolution.

The Veteran community can lead in this effort, as Veterans have extensive experience in leading diverse populations to mission accomplishment.  Leading by example within the Veteran community are two organizations featured in this issue of Veterans Reporter News:  TeamRWB and MVP.

As we reflect and remember the innocent victims, the First Responders who rushed into burning buildings on September 11, 2001, and all of the service members, who have served at home and abroad, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, let us commit to being of service to our community.  We welcome all who wish to dialogue; professional athletes ought to consider that if they want to get the Veteran community’s attention, a slap in the face is not necessarily the best approach.  Patriotism might best be considered a verb – constant and continued service to achieve a more perfect union.

Veterans Reporter News would be honored to host a town hall with leaders from the community to include local government, first responders, professional sports teams, Veterans, faith-based organizations, education, and anyone interested in healing wounds and forming a more perfect union within our community.  If you are interested in being part of advancing positive and productive dialogue, please contact Veterans Reporter News at:  Stay tuned for updates regarding this town hall.

Remembering Todd Beamer on Flight 93, “Let’s Roll!”