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Viewpoint: On the Fourth of July, our flag or Kaepernick?

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U.S. military veterans have a long memory.

That’s part of the political problem that NFL-spurned quarterback Colin Kaepernick and Philadelphia Eagle Malcolm Jenkins have with the mini-drama they’re creating in co-opting the National Football League as a stage for a play on social change.

Military veterans number 21 million in the American population of about 328 million. Many vets, if not most, are married with families, so increase those numbers proportionately.

More than 45 million African Americans represent about 14 percent of the American population, and their political clout is increasing, without doubt.

The grievances of the NFL protesters who kneel during the observance of America’s National Anthem are legitimate grievances. They’re authentic.

I agree with their grievances, but not with their NFL protest. It’s a distinction with a difference, and they seem to be asking me, and you, to choose.

I’ve been involved in a variety of civil rights and social justice movements throughout my life – going back to the 1960s as a VP of the Campus Democrats at the University of Illinois – and I’ve articulated some of those exact grievances. More recently among them is the elimination of mandatory minimums in sentencing, as well as addressing re-entry issues, which tend to disproportionately impact young African-American males.

But, in a free society like ours, we all have grievances. Life simply is not fair.

In fact, our increasingly empathic society rewards our grievances by labeling us “victims,” and we all know society rewards “victim hood” with entitlements.

The dilemma for Kaepernick, Jenkins and others is that in this once-great country of the United States of America, it’s our flag that becomes the symbol for our shared beliefs, our values, our hopes and dreams. It’s not only our past. It’s our present, and it’s our legacy.

Worse, many recognize that Kaepernick and Jenkins set out to mislead the American public that it’s a First Amendment issue, which it decidedly is not. The First Amendment limits Congress from making any law that abridges the freedom of speech.

The First Amendment doesn’t say anything about employees who enter a voluntary relationship with an employer, and what they can and cannot do or say when they are at work.

During the Vietnam War, I was one of more than 10 million Americans who volunteered to give up our lives in service to that concept of America represented by our flag. Yes, I would have given my life for the people who would benefit later, like Colin Kaepernick and Malcolm Jenkins. Some 60,000 died.

Today, among more than 1.3 million American volunteers in uniform, some still throw themselves on explosive devices and shield others from danger by putting themselves at risk – all the product of the love of others about which the Apostle Paul counseled us in 1 Corinthians.

Effectively, what Kaepernick and Jenkins are telling Americans – including its veterans – is that their grievance is more important than the shared values of love that millions of Americans have fought for.

It’s a losing argument, because they’ve defined their protest as a zero-sum game, effectively “join us and disrespect the flag or support the status quo.”

I’ll fight for their grievance, but I certainly won’t choose it over the flag that I and millions of others volunteered to defend.

“Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it,” someone once said. “It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.”

Instead, I’ve “tuned out,” a decision that hopefully will cost all of them money. I heard the Eagles had a good season last year. But, like millions of others, I freed up my Sunday afternoons and watched very little NFL football. If this continues, it will be even less this year.

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