I Stood That He Might Kneel
A Retired Military Man's View of Colin Kaepernick
On the day that I turned eighteen, I presented myself at the office of the USAF recruiter. I was following through on an impulsive decision to enlist that I’d made the night before. America was still at war in Vietnam but, far from being a starry-eyed idealist eager to fight for my country, I was a disillusioned radical who had squandered three years of high school. In the process I’d painted myself into a corner and I held no viable skills beyond those required for menial work in hotel kitchens. At the time I had no higher education options because I lacked a diploma.
I’d spent a lot of the preceding summer writing very angry poetry about America. Always an avid reader and student of history, I had long been aware of the hypocrisy of the so-called American ideals. Most notably the constitutional line stating “…that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights...” I considered it a laughable statement to define a country where Native Americans were eradicated, Black people were enslaved, Hispanics were brutalized and marginalized, Asians were exploited, and on and on. You know the reality and it can’t be ignored.
My friends were shocked that I was “going into the war” but I went with my eyes wide open, even though my heart remained bitter. I went because military service offered me the best opportunity to learn a skill, gain an education, see the world and become a man. I planned on a four year stint with the idea that whatever education I didn’t obtain while serving, I would get using the G.I. Bill after my service. But Destiny laughs at our plans. My four years became eight, then twelve until, eventually, I retired after twenty years, having long attained all of the goals I‘d set for myself.
During those twenty years I found that I loved America more than I thought I could. A return to American soil after each sojourn overseas became a special reunion. I never lost my awareness of America’s historical inequities and how those roots stretch into both the present and the future, still ensuring that the words of slave-holder Jefferson are not as demonstrably false as when he wrote them, the hollow clang of incompleteness still rings when they’re spoken aloud.
Yet, with all of its faults, America remains my country. The country that I love and I would have no other. At some point during my twenty years of service I began to truly value the role that I played in defending the country and upholding its spoken ideals, even as injustice remained as American as apple pie. When Colin Kaepernick began taking a knee during the National Anthem, I supported him even though, were I at the same game, I would be standing proudly at attention. I’m a military man and that’s what military men do, but standing tall and proud doesn’t blind me to the rightness of his cause. Born and raised in Philadelphia, I learned first-hand the inequities of policing and the disparities in the justice system.
So, a football player kneeled and many of those who themselves use the time required to play the anthem to check their texts, take selfies, eat hot dogs or just sprawl in their stadium seats impatiently awaiting the start of the game were outraged. "How dare he?" they shouted. Some supported his right to protest as long as he did so in a more personal, private setting. As if, a protest that doesn’t at least hold the potential to offend someone could in any way be newsworthy or succeed at its purpose of drawing attention to a cause.
The years that I spent in uniform, pledged to uphold and defend the constitution, helped— in some small way— to empower people all across the political spectrum with the right to peaceably state their views consistent with applicable laws and regulations. There should be no outrage that a football player kneeled. Instead, after all of these years, the outrage should be that there remains a need to call attention to these wrongs. When I’m at a game and the anthem plays, I’ll stand at attention. If everyone around me and players on the field do otherwise, I won’t care. That’s their right. There’s a name for the country that believes in that right. It’s called "America."
Here’s a suggestion that might sound familiar. If freedom bothers you that much, you might consider moving to another country.
© 2017 Lamar Jones