Alan Steinberg talks to the NFL players on their grievances
Dear NFL Kneelers:
Regarding your decision not to stand during the National Anthem at NFL pre-game ceremonies:
I salute you for being young men of principle who are willing to risk your NFL careers and endorsement potential for the values in which you deeply believe. To African-American kneelers: You are justifiably proud of your heritage, and I deeply admire those individuals like you who care about the less fortunate of their particular race or ethnic group.
You are correct in decrying the fact that racial injustices still exist in America. And there continue to be too many cases of police brutality against inner-city minorities. It is laudable that individuals of your prominence should point this out to the American public.
As for Colin Kaepernick, the exiled NFL quarterback who started the kneeler movement: I have read reports that you have recently converted to Islam. I venerate the American tradition of religious tolerance, which enables me as an Orthodox Jew to live by the laws of the Torah, as long as I acknowledge the supremacy of the United States Constitution. I admire people of faith, and I will similarly always defend your Constitutionally protected rights of belief and exercise of Sharia practices.
As for all NFL kneelers, Black or White: While I believe your kneeling during the National Anthem is a legitimate form of protest, I think it is unwise, however, for you to do so. Let me explain, for what it is worth, my historical perspective for my feelings.
I am 68 years old, and for much of my life, I have been in the forefront of the struggle to eliminate racial injustice. I was a vigorous defender of Muhammad Ali, and in my youth, I marched in demonstrations in my native city of Pittsburgh as a protest against discriminatory practices in the construction industry
Yet perhaps my most significant memory in this regard will always be the Summer Olympics in Mexico City in 1968. That was the Summer Olympics in which American track and field stars Tommy Smith and John Carlos raised their fists during the National Anthem as a protest against the racism that was so shamelessly prevalent in America during that time.
In that year of 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, as was Robert F. Kennedy, the white presidential candidate most trusted by African- Americans. The Kerner Commission report issued that year accurately attributed widespread bigoted practices of police brutality against African-Americans as the cause of the racial unrest spreading throughout urban America. And America continued to deprive Muhammad Ali of his right to practice his craft, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
That is why I vigorously defended the raising of fists by Tommy Smith and John Carlos. And I will always be proud to have done so.
But we have come a long way since those tragic days of 1968. Certainly, racism and practices of police brutality still exist, but to a much lesser extent than fifty years ago.
Where such bigotry and hatred still exist, I will stand with you in alerting the American public to the need to eliminate these cancers on the American body politic. Your kneeling through the National Anthem, however, provides ammunition for those advocates of racism to damage your cause. If you stand during the National Anthem, you will find millions of Americans following behind you in your march towards a better America. In that way, you will more effectively champion your cause.
My greatest American hero will always be Jackie Roosevelt Robinson. When Roger Kahn wrote the American Classic, The Boys of Summer, he wrote of Jackie, “He does not want to burn America. Burn America, and you burn Jackie Robinson.”
I urge you to follow the example of Jackie Robinson. Remember the words of John F. Kennedy, “This is a great country, but we can do better.” Affirm the greatness of America and its protection of Constitutional liberties, yours and mine, by standing during the National Anthem.
I hope you will continue to further the enhancement of America by being leaders in the fight to eliminate the remaining vestiges of racial hatred. America’s most highly publicized avatar of bigotry, Donald Trump, defames you and your mothers with despicable profanity. I hope and pray that you will ignore his vile behavior and serve as an excellent example for young people to follow in the efforts to make our great nation even greater.
Best wishes for a successful 2017 NFL season.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.
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