Sam Parente’s Aug. 22 letter, “Athletes' actions extremely disrespectful,” raised many questions. Giving one’s life for one’s country deserves respect, but respect comes in many forms. When did memory of the war dead become a bloody rite to silence First Amendment rights? Are we a cult? Do we worship those who died by suppressing others? Should we remember the war dead as superheroes, gods, martyrs or venerated saints? Or, should we remember them as decent folks who died serving their country? They were your neighbor’s son or daughter. Though tragic, their loss is not so sacred that we should suspend our rights in their memory. Where is the honor in weaponizing their memory? Do not use their memory to divide us.
National anthems and flags do not define a nation. The Constitution and rule of law define what is American. It gives every American the right to free expression. It gives every American the right to kneel or stand for the national anthem. What better way to honor those who died in service than supporting and preserving the Constitution? After all, they died because they took an oath to support and defend it.
I recall May 1965 when the draft harvested New England and New York 20-year-olds for service. Many of us in that harvest took the oath to support and defend the Constitution. Among those were African-Americans, and many of those gave their lives.
Colin Kaepernick exercised his right to free expression. He asked us to remember. African-Americans do not enjoy equal protection under the law. He asked the nation to hold police accountable. Now, if Mr. Parente believes that is hateful, he should revisit his values.
Willingness to condemn others for exercising their right of free expression is not patriotism, as Mr. Parente suggests. He claims athletes taking the knee offend most Americans and Donald Trump. Would the offended end all rights to assure that all Americans stand for the national anthem? Would they suspend religious rights or protection from unlawful search and seizure? I doubt it. Many Americans find it offensive when cynical politicians use the blood of our service men and women to create hate and division.
The protest was never about military service. It was about equal protection under the law for African-Americans. Donald Trump created this controversy. The same Donald Trump who got medical deferments for bone spurs during Vietnam. The same Donald Trump who claimed years of unprotected sex as his personal Vietnam. The same Donald Trump who disparaged John McCain and gold star parents of an Iraq War vet. I find Trump’s behavior filled with racist overtones and as offensive as Mr. Parente’s notion of patriotism.
Joseph C. SciarilloWesterly