Piers Morgan: How Dare You Call These Football Players Sons of Bitches, Mr President? They’re Proud, Successful Americans Who Deserve to Be Heard, Not Vilified

It was just over a year ago when NFL star Colin Kaepernick first refused to stand for the US national anthem when it was played during a San Francisco 49ers preseason game.

Instead, he sat it out, explaining afterwards he did it in response to a summer of contentious police shootings involving fellow African-Americans: ‘I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people,’ he said. ‘To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.’

My gut reaction at the time to the images of Kaepernick slouching on his seat as the anthem played was not dissimilar to Donald Trump’s.

I thought it was massively disrespectful to those who have fought in the US military for the freedoms the flag and anthem symbolise, and I said so in a strident column which ended with this entreaty to the quarter-back: ‘Get off your backside, stand to attention, put your hand on your heart and thank God you spend your life chasing footballs not dodging bullets. Then we’ll believe you when you say you’re not anti-American, and we may listen harder to the message you want to convey.’

Barack Obama, who was President at the time, concurred: ‘When it comes to the flag and the national anthem, and the meaning it holds for men and women in uniform, that is a tough thing for them to get past to then hear what his deeper concerns are.’

Obama, though, endorsed Kaepernick’s constitutional right to act as he did, and made this very good point: ‘I want Mr Kaepernick and others who are on a knee to listen to the pain that may cause somebody who, for example, had a spouse or a child who was killed in combat and why it hurts them to see somebody not standing. But I also want people to think about the pain he may be expressing about somebody who’s lost a loved one that they think was unfairly shot.’

In other words, there were two sides to this debate, both worthy of respectful hearing.

Kaepernick’s sitting protests sparked a storm of fury across America.

But a transformative moment arrived a few weeks into the furore in the shape of an open letter to Kaepernick from Nate Boyer, a former Green Beret who played briefly for the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.

Boyer politely told Kaepernick why it was so hurtful as a veteran to see him sitting through the anthem, but he also vowed to listen to him ‘with an open mind’.

The two men met, discussed the issue at length, and as a result, Kaepernick switched to kneeling.

Why?

Let former Staff Sgt. Boyer tell the story: ‘We sorta came to a middle ground where he would take a knee alongside his teammates. Soldiers take a knee in front of a fallen brother’s grave, you know, to show respect.’

Boyer then stood next to a kneeling Kaepernick at a game, for which he himself was abused – even by some of his former Green Beret comrades.

But he said: ‘I also had a lot of people in the military that said: ‘Man, I hadn’t really thought about that before. I think you’re onto something.’

Yes, he was.

Boyer made me think too.

Kneeling is not and never has been a mark of disrespect.

When I go to church and kneel, it is in fact the mark of utmost respect during any service.

Just as it is when soldiers kneel at the graves of slain colleagues.

When Kaepernick sat, it looked and felt very disrespectful.

When he kneeled, it suddenly looked and felt very different.

I wrote another column a month later, following the appalling shooting by police of Keith Scott, a 43-year-old black man in Charlotte, North Carolina, that led to widespread rioting.

I admitted I’d been wrong about Kaepernick and that he, not the rioters, had by far the better response to racial injustice by making his voice heard in a peaceful, respectful way.

‘That voice is now resonating in a singularly powerful way across America. It’s time we all listened to him.’

Sadly, one person who didn’t want to listen to him was President Donald Trump.

As more players joined Kaepernick’s kneeling protest this season, Trump’s rage finally boiled over.

In a furious outburst during a speech in Alabama last Friday night, he bellowed: ‘Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired!’

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Source: Daily Mail

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