Merle Wilberding
Merle Wilberding

September 28, 2017

Over the past weekend hundreds of NFL players, coaches, owners and various hangers-on knelt, sat or linked arms on Sunday during the playing of the national anthem, including owner Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys before the Monday Night Football game.

By all accounts they were protesting the weekend rhetoric of President Trump, beginning with the vulgarities he made during his campaign rally last Friday in Huntsville, Alabama: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.” Our president followed that up with a series of tweets, urging owners to fire their players, urging fans to boycott NFL games and to boycott the products of the games’ sponsors.

In a parallel fight, President Trump “disinvited” Steph Curry and the NBA champion Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House, a traditional honor for national championship teams. But, this tweet was made after Curry had already said that he wasn’t going. LeBron James, the greatest current basketball player, jumped into the fray, tweeting to Trump that “going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up.”

What’s with throwing firebombs at the NFL and the NBA? It simply makes no sense. It’s about as inane as Allen Iverson’s infamous rant about “practice” in which he complained about having to practice when there are so many more important things going on in the world. (Iverson’s friend had just been shot.)

In the same way, the president should not be complaining about a football player kneeling during the national anthem when there are so many more important things going on in the world.

President Trump should be reminded that in 2013, when he was simply “The Donald,” he famously tweeted that President Obama should stay away from interfering with the NFL because “our country has far bigger problems.”

He was right then. He would be right now. Think about North Korea, nuclear war, immigration, health care and the Mueller investigation.   

Yet, for the hard-core Trump supporters, his tweets and taunts are raw meat, and they love it.

For the rest of the country, these tirades divide us.

This is very troubling, especially now when Trump is threatening to destroy the North Korean regime. Both Trump and Kim Jong-un are very much kids on the playground, taunting each other with threats. except in their case, each of them can push the button on a nuclear weapon. So our entire nation should be very concerned that as the rhetoric continues to ratchet up, we come closer to a nuclear war.

During the Vietnam War, I served four years in the U.S. Army. I believed it was my patriotic duty then. Now I believe it is my patriotic duty to stand and put my hand over my heart during the national anthem. At Rotary every Monday, I proudly stand with my hand over my heart as the entire Rotary Club recites the Pledge of Allegiance. I always feel a special reverence during those patriotic moments. I wish everyone would feel that. But they don’t.

Yet, even though I may disagree with their actions, I will forever defend their right to do them. That’s why America is a democracy.

We should celebrate our democracy. As Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback and a personal friend of President Trump, said on Monday, we should be “bringing people together in respect, love and trust.” President Trump should follow Brady’s advice. He should seek to unite the country by giving thanks for our great country, by giving thanks for the military, firefighters and first responders, and by giving thanks for a democracy that gives us the freedom of speech to kneel and link arms with each other in a show of solidarity.

Take a knee, Mr. President.