Forgive the sound quality of this week’s episode of Six Minutes. I can’t be in the studio this week, but the topic is too important for me not to speak out. The topic is not simply about taking a knee or not taking a knee, about sitting out the National Anthem or not sitting out the National Anthem. It’s actually about how, with the very best of intentions, and I do want to believe they have the best of intentions, people in this country are talking past each other, or really shouting past each other, and storming past each other about issues that are simply too important for that to be a satisfactory response.
My response to all this starts starts with the most popular NFL jersey over the past week, according to the NFL online store. The jersey and paraphernalia that’s been most popular, belongs with Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Alejandro Villanueva — a former Army Ranger with three Afghan tours under his belt, and a bronze star pinned to his chest.
I love that people are responding to support the single member of the Pittsburgh Steelers who took the field to stand at attention, hand over his heart, when they played the National Anthem in last week’s game against the Chicago Bears, and yes, I am glad the Bears won.
I want to be completely transparent here. I don’t agree with this whole sitting out the anthem, and not standing for the flag thing. I don’t think it’s the best way to deal with the issues at hand. That I feel that way however, makes it all the more significant when I say that, while I don’t think the players were/are doing it right, I know that the President of the United States is doing it wrong.
President Trump’s response of swearing at players, cursing them out, and suggesting that they be fired, tells me, and tells the country, that the President of the United States is either so governed by a set of passions which are not based on anything, or worse, that he either doesn’t know the Constitution of the United States or simply doesn’t care what it says — that he believes you can fire people because they choose to kneel during the singing of the National Anthem, which is actually a constitutionally protected right!
Frankly, whether it’s-out-of-control passion, ignorance of the Constitution, or knowing the Constitution and not caring about what it says, I don’t know which of those is worse, but I know they’re all bad, and I know they’re all wrong.
It seems to me that there are real and important questions on both sides of this debate, and we have got to be better at dealing with them. In fact, the way we are doing it now, pretty much guarantees that we will actually avoid dealing with any of those real and important questions at all!
I want to look at two examples, one negative and one positive, in the hope that we can learn to do better from each of them. The negative one is the Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin, who fumbled badly when he refused to support Mr. Villanueva, because, as the coach said, he “was looking for 100% participation out of respect for the team.”
No, Coach Tomlin. Expecting 100% participation when it keeps people from standing up and voicing their opinions, is generally wrong, and ironically, exactly why the rest of the team has a right to do what they did, and should be protected when they do things that even others of us don’t agree with. The reason they have a right to sit out the anthem is the reason you have an obligation to support Mr. Villanueva, so that’s how not to do it.
And the positive example? Well, let’s just say it’s hard not to be inspired by the image that is now beginning to go viral, of a gentleman kneeling on an Indianapolis street as the presidential motorcade passes. He is kneeling in a crisp white shirt, and dark trousers and tie, kneeling in a cap that indicates that he is a veteran of the US military, kneeling with a tightly folded flag over that knee.
To see a veteran with that triangularly folded flag — It’s not hard to make the linkage to the flags that are handed to surviving loved ones at a military funeral. Whether the gentleman kneeling in Indianapolis is mourning the loss of someone in his life, or is mourning that his experience of the American dream has died, or both –to ignore that, or immediately assume it is unpatriotic, is not only crazy, it’s stupid and it’s wrong.
We need coaches who will support their players’ willingness to walk onto the field when most of the team doesn’t do so, and we need people who love the flag but also love what it stands for so deeply, that when they see that dignified gentleman kneeling before the presidential motorcade, they at least wonder, what has died in his life.
I think if we begin to ask questions that way, it actually may not matter so much whether you stand for the flag as I wish these players would, or you don’t, because together, we would be building that American dream, and if we do that, I would bet that how the flag flies over that dream, will take care of itself because that dream will be more in touch, and more intact, for more people on both sides of this debate.
Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC’s Nightline UpClose, PBS’s Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, “For God’s Sake,” for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.