I really feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but after reading a whole lot of ignorant comments this weekend, it’s apparent I need to say it. It’s even MORE apparent that I should say it when about a month or so somebody sent me an e-mail and said “I only come here for the reviews, so keep your G*d d*mn opinions to yourself.” Tough luck amigo – this is my place to say what I want, when I want, any WAY that I want. And when it comes to the football field, the sidelines, or even the bench, those are Colin Kaepernick’s spaces to say what he wants to whoever he wants too. He obviously has a lot more places he can say things – radio interviews, YouTube videos, editorials for sports magazines – but the football field is the place where he’s heard the loudest. This is mine. I’m going to use my First Amendment right to say what I want in it.

Let’s get one thing perfectly clear – Kaepernick is NOT protesting the brave men and women of the armed forces by taking a knee before the National Anthem. You don’t have to take my word for it because there are plenty of veterans who will say so themselves, but you don’t have to take their word for it either. Kaepernick himself has been crystal clear on the issue: “I have great respect for men and women that have fought for this country.” If you had eyes on Kaepernick any time OTHER than during the playing of the Anthem, such as when military veterans were brought on the field to be recognized, that respect was evident and clear. It’s a respect I share and concur with, and not just because my own father served, but because I have always believed those who serve are taking great risks for noble reasons. Very few risk life and limb without a goal in mind – pay for college, provide for their family, earn a living the only way they can – all knowing they could come home an amputee or with PTSD.

Why are so many people so quick to equate Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem with disrespecting the military? I’ve thought about it for a while and the only conclusion I can come to is “To shut him up.” There’s a general sense of fatigue among a large percentage of conservative white Americans with hearing about police brutality and issues of racism, and they’d prefer to sweep it all under the rug and act like the United States is infallible and nothing is wrong. Football is a form of escape for many of these people – a few hours of brutality on the field that has its own risks for concussions and PTSD – but we’ll address that issue another time. The point is the same people who want to ignore what’s going on in America are so upset at being reminded that it’s not “all good” during their sporting events that they’ve become desperate to make fans turn on the athletes who protest it. They rush to the right wing media bully pulpit and cry as loudly as they can “DISRESPECTFUL! UNPATRIOTIC! TRAITOROUS!” And the great irony of this of course is that they are using their First Amendment rights to protest HIS First Amendment rights, something few ever seem to notice.

I take my cap off, face the flag, and put my right hand over my heart whenever the Anthem is played at any sporting event I attend. I do so not because it’s a law, nor because I feel obliged to do so, but because it’s something I enjoy. It stirs a feeling of happiness because despite everything ugly and wrong with this country, I’m still proud to be an American. Part of the reason I can say that is that with so much wrong there’s one thing we continue to get right – freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Love is not an obligation either. There are a lot of men and women who don’t love America right now, and rather than trying to silence them or boo them, everyone should take it in their own heart to understand that pain. Even if you took Kaepernick off the field or any of his fellow athletes who silently protest the Anthem by taking a knee, you’re not making that pain go away. Sweep it under the rug all you like, but you’re still going to have to pull the rug up and look at it eventually. Out of sight is not out of mind, and if you love America like I do, you’ll love that we live in a country where you’re free to say you’re not happy and you’re hurting. This is not North Korea – you can’t be locked up for being unhappy or expressing that feeling – and God Bless America for it. Stop accusing Kaepernick of being unpatriotic or disrespectful when he’s doing the most American thing any of us can do by looking a wrong in the face and saying it’s not right until people will listen.