Nationalism versus patriotism

The truth is there are social ills that beset America, and many of today’s professional sports players come from communities that have been the battlegrounds for those contests—against racism, poverty, incarceration and marginalization. In fact, in many cases, their ability to play sports rescued them from the less fortunate fates of their neighbors and peers. Many of them feel like veterans of a domestic war that has been bubbling beneath the surface of our nation since its founding.

On the national stage, however, there are bigger fish to fry. We have thousands of veterans of America’s wars, from World War II through the latest wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and Niger who are suffering, too. Many of them have faced unimaginable horrors in the defense of our nation—seeing their comrades blown to bits, the catastrophic injuries among those who survived, the excruciating physical anguish of lost limbs and embedded shrapnel from exploded IEDs and the psychological weight survivor’s guilt over the friends who did lose their lives.

By contrast, the social ills facing America’s urban centers seem almost tame, like a game invented by old men to give young people an opportunity to vent their youthful aggressions. In addition, the players in the NFL, who make millions of dollars and are placed on a pedestal—even higher than those in the military who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country—seem, by contrast, to be privileged, ungrateful brats at best. At worst, they are poisoning the national well with petty gripes that dishonor the brave warriors who have laid down their lives to protect the very rights they get to exercise as Americans.

Let us truly enshrine in our minds and hearts what it costs to enjoy the freedoms we have as Americans. Let us suspend the fights that rage all around us over the contested grounds of wealth, race and social class. Let us acknowledge that there is far more that unites us than divides.