I enjoy going to ball games. I love the crowd, the game, the hot dogs. I love standing as the Star-Spangled Banner is sung. I find it meaningful that we take those moments to celebrate what it means to be Americans. I stand because I love our freedom. I stand because millions of men and women have fought for that freedom, many giving their lives for this country.
As I stand, though, I recognize that each of our stories are different. Life in America has been good to me. I've had opportunities that many around the world haven't. But I have dear friends whose story has been different from mine.
Several months ago, after yet another news story came out about a black man being shot by police, one of my African-American friends, a young pastor, shared his experience. He talked about the fear he felt when being stopped by police, which sometimes happened when he hadn't done anything wrong. He wondered about the day when he would have to talk to his children about living in a country where there is fear simply because their skin is darker than others.
As I read his words, my heart broke for him, and for all others who his story represented. Of course, I couldn't relate to the story. I've never felt that kind of fear during a simple traffic stop. But I realized that the simple fact of my inability to relate demanded that I listen. I need to hear the stories of others, to listen to those stories, so that I can understand their experience, their feelings.
Today, many NFL players took a stand for what they believe by not standing during the anthem. Some chose to kneel, while some entire teams chose to stay in their locker room until the anthem was finished. As I look at social media, I see dear friends expressing a wide range of views on this. Some support the players, others boycott the games to express their disagreement with the players' actions. Each one has reasons for their position, and I find that there are important points on both sides.
It seems to me that the right to protest is at the heart of what it means to be an American. The players who chose to kneel were not trying to put down the flag, or the veterans who have served this country. They were making the statement that there are problems in this country that we need to address. Many people complained today that these were a bunch of millionaires seeking attention. But doesn't change happen best when those who have the spotlight take a stand for those who don't? I would suggest that these players were doing exactly what each of us should be doing, letting our voices be heard for those whose voices aren't. It's time to listen to each other, hear each other, understand each other, and stand for one another, whatever that looks like.
But there's another side to the picture that is just as beautiful. The Pittsburgh Steelers chose to remain in their locker room during the anthem. But one Steeler, Alejandro Villanueva, couldn't stay there with them. He came out to the end of the tunnel, stood on the edge of the field with his hand on his heart, standing for the celebration of the country he served while stationed in Afghanistan.
I've written this before, but it still seems important to me today: Stand for what you believe in. Take a stand for your country. Take a stand against injustice. Stand for people who can't take a stand for themselves. I'm thankful to live in America, where standing for what one believes in is the heart of who we are.