I'm A Veteran From Pittsburgh, And I Support The Steelers' Silent Protest

Patriotism isn’t about forcing people to stand and salute the flag, or shaming them for choosing not to.

Pittsburgh, an unassuming town, west of the Appalachian Mountains, comes alive with passion and pride on game night. This diverse population of hardworking “Yinzers” religiously comes together in dive bars across the city to cheer on their beloved Steelers. If we have one thing in common here, it’s that we all bleed black and gold. However, on Sunday, Sept. 24th, many angry Pittsburghers took to social media to express their disgust after the players stayed in the locker room as the national anthem resounded over an empty field. While many applauded their decision to sit out the anthem, the majority of fans felt as if the team had disrespected their country and its veterans.

My newsfeed has been flooded with comments suggesting that football players protest on their own time or leave the U.S if it doesn’t make them happy. It seemed as if an imaginary line of morality had been drawn across the same field that normally brought us together on any other night. The beautiful thing about Pittsburgh sports and Pittsburghers in general is that the passion and love that we have for this city is its beating heart. It is home to old and new generations alike, a melting pot of rich cultures and a sanctuary for anyone looking for a warm welcome. So I’m chagrined at the path our city is currently heading down.

When did kneeling during the national anthem become an attack on our brothers and sisters in arms?

When Colin Kaepernick originally began kneeling, it was to bring attention to the unjust killings of black men. So, when did kneeling during the national anthem become an attack on our brothers and sisters in arms? I’d like to challenge the notion that choosing to “take a knee” is meant to disrespect our men and women in service. In fact, many silent protestors fully support our soldiers while simultaneously hanging their heads in dismay, on bended knee, in response to the current social climate.

So, let’s shift our perspective.

As an Army veteran, proud Pittsburgher and black American, I volunteered to risk my life for freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If you are one who truly feels you are living in “the land of the free,” pledging your allegiance to the flag is a joy and a privilege. However, if you are one who feels the current state of affairs in this nation does not accurately represent those spoken values, of if you are one who feels that this nation and its leaders have disappointed you and our veterans, pledging allegiance is equivalent to self-betrayal.  

HuffPost is hitting the road this fall to interview people about their hopes, dreams, fears ― and what it means to be American today.

It’s important to remember patriotism isn’t about forcing people to stand and salute the flag or about shaming them for choosing not to. Patriotism is about making this country a place where everyone wants to do so. Taking a knee was never about an outdated anthem, piece of cloth or veterans. It has always been about symbolism, privilege and racial injustice. It was fully intended to start the conversation about a society that supports the unjust treatment of people of color and how all Americans play a part in this broken system.

After all, dissent is the highest form of patriotism. 

So yes, maybe watching the Steelers stay behind instead of standing for the national anthem was uncomfortable to watch, but not more uncomfortable than being murdered because of the color of your skin. It is important to get beyond the idea of the flag and start talking about why the ideals it is supposed to represent aren’t being upheld.