Living Columns & Blogs

Forced respect for the flag, like forced hugs, may be empty gestures

In this Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif. NFL owners have approved a new policy aimed at addressing the firestorm over national anthem protests, permitting players to stay in the locker room during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” but requiring them to stand if they come to the field. The decision was announced Wednesday, May 23, 2018,  by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta.
In this Monday, Sept. 12, 2016, file photo, San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams in Santa Clara, Calif. NFL owners have approved a new policy aimed at addressing the firestorm over national anthem protests, permitting players to stay in the locker room during the “The Star-Spangled Banner” but requiring them to stand if they come to the field. The decision was announced Wednesday, May 23, 2018, by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell during the league’s spring meeting in Atlanta. AP Photo

When I was a barefoot boy with checks of tan, my brother Warren and I occasionally engaged in fisticuffs.

They often ended with my mother riding to my rescue with a sturdy switch plucked from a backyard peach tree. After switching us both, she would order us to embrace and say, “I love you.”

The perfunctory hugs and declarations of affection were the worst parts of the punishment. They only enhanced our momentary dislike for each other. The ritual was especially painful for me because during the embrace, my brother would be kneeing me in the groin.

I share this childhood vignette because of the NFL’s new rule that players who sit during the playing of our national anthem will be subject to punishment, including possible dismissal.

No doubt many of you applaud the NFL rule, adopted in response to President Trump’s urging and by declining game attendance attributed to the players’ form of protest.

It’s understandable that fans and the general public might wonder what football players, some making up to a couple million bucks annually, could find to be unhappy about. But as we’ve heard all our lives, “Money isn’t everything. “

I remember an anecdote about a rich man whose life was so miserable that he finally took himself to a psychiatrist. During the session, the psychiatrist finally asked, “Can you tell me when in your life you were the happiest?”

After some thought, the patient replied, “Many years ago when I was a poor wood cutter. I felt good, slept well, and was at peace with the world.”

“Go chop wood!” the psychiatrist ordered and dismissed the patient.

I’m not suggesting that the protesting players have no grounds for sit downs. But because of their lucrative incomes, their protests tend to garner less public sympathy.

That doesn’t mean their protests don’t have merit.

Meanwhile, forced gestures of respect for flag or anthem, like forced hugs, may well be merely empty gestures.

Another epiphany moment

In a recent column I discussed epiphanies, which are defined as memorable moments of sudden or great revelation that often change a person in some way.

A Raleigh reader shared with me his most memorable epiphany moment. I must admit that it is indeed unique.

A church group he was traveling with had stopped at the Grand Canyon for a prayer vigil.

“I did not have my head bowed or eyes closed,” he wrote. “As I watched the sun rising over the rim, a California condor, a magnificent and endangered species, rose over the edge 30 feet away and winked at me.

“The faithful prayers missed that spectacular viewing! Later, I slipped away from watchful eyes and perched right on the canyon rim, I relieved myself into the Colorado River a mile down! This was inspired by having read Jack London’s stories about the Yukon Gold Rush. London stated that a tenderfoot was someone who had never peed into the Yukon River.”

One of my greatest epiphany moments was marching down the gangplank of a troopship in Seattle, Wash., after spending two years in the South Pacific during World War II.

The homecoming was marred by a horrific storm at sea that had us clinging to our bunks and being sick over the side. As I finally debarked, I could hardly see the steps for my tears of joy.

Airport entrance

When I recently delivered my daughter to Raleigh-Durham International Airport to fly home after a brief visit, I once again groused over the airport’s ugly entrance signs.

The airport area itself is beautiful, with rolling, green grassland generously enhanced by shade trees. But the two entrance signs resemble signs you might see in front of an adult book store or used car lot.

Anyway, as I wished my daughter a smooth flight to Florida, I thought to myself of an anecdote in which an airline passenger, upon leaving the plane after a rough landing, said to the pilot, “Sir, may I ask you a question?”

“You certainly may,” the pilot replied.

“Tell me. Did we land or were we shot down?” the passenger asked as she moved on.

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