In the aftermath of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's decision to sit out the national anthem in protest of police brutality, a military veteran's response to the backlash has gone viral on Facebook — with roughly 32,000 reactions and 23,000 shares.
Jim Wright, who, according to his Facebook profile, is retired from the U.S. Navy, began his post with the statement Kaepernick issued to the NFL regarding his decision:
"'I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,' Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. 'To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.'"
According to Wright's post, he was bombarded with emails from people asking how he, as a veteran, felt about the protest. He goes on to name all the ridiculous things the football player has been called as a result — "scum, a horrible human being, a likely member of ISIS, a Muslim terrorist, a black thug, a communist, a socialist (and not the cool share your weed Bernie Sanders kind of socialist but the Red Brigade kind of Socialist who sleeps under a poster of Chairman Mao), a radical, a Black Panther..."
Next, Wright begins his response with a treatise on respect and its importance in the military:
"The very first thing I learned in the military is this: Respect is a two-way street. If you want respect, true respect, sincere respect, then you have to GIVE IT.
"If you want respect, you have to do the things necessary to earn it each and every single day. There are no short cuts and no exceptions.
"Respect cannot be compelled.
"Respect cannot be bought.
"Respect cannot be inherited...Respect has to be earned.
"Respect. Has. To. Be. Earned."
His post continues, relating the concept of respect to the treatment of Kaepernick on social media:
"Now, any veteran worth the label should know that. If they don't, then likely they weren't much of a soldier to begin with and you can tell them I said so.
"IF Kaepernick doesn't feel his country respects him enough for him to respect it in return, well, then you can't MAKE him respect it.
"You can not make him respect it.
"If you try to force a man to respect you, you'll only make him respect you less.
"With threats, by violence, by shame, you can maybe compel Kaepernick to stand up and put his hand over his heart and force him to be quiet. "You might.
"But that's not respect.
"It's only the illusion of respect.
"You might force this man into the illusion of respect. You might. Would you be satisfied then? Would that make you happy? Would that make you respect your nation, the one which forced a man into the illusion of respect, a nation of little clockwork patriots all pretending satisfaction and respect? Is that what you want? If THAT's what matters to you, the illusion of respect, then you're not talking about freedom or liberty. You're not talking about the United States of America. Instead you're talking about every dictatorship from the Nazis to North Korea where people are lined up and MADE to salute with the muzzle of a gun pressed to the back of their necks.
"That, that illusion of respect, is not why I wore a uniform.
"That's not why I held up my right hand and swore the oath and put my life on the line for my country.
"That, that illusion of respect, is not why I am a veteran.
"Not so a man should be forced to show respect he doesn't feel.
"That's called slavery and I have no respect for that at all."
The post continues with what Americans must do to earn Kaepernick's respect:
"If Americans want this man to respect America, then first they must respect him.
"If America wants the world's respect, it must be worthy of respect.
"America must be worthy of respect. Torture, rendition, indefinite detention, unarmed black men shot down in the street every day, poverty, inequality, voter suppression, racism, bigotry in every form, obstructionism, blind patriotism, NONE of those things are worthy of respect from anybody -- least of all an American.
"But doesn't it also mean that if Kaepernick wants respect, he must give it first? Give it to America? Be worthy of respect himself? Stand up, shut up, and put his hand over his heart before Old Glory?
"No. It doesn't.
"Respect doesn't work that way."
Wright then discusses how the meaning behind the national anthem is rightly subjective:
"To you the National Anthem means one thing, to Kaepernick it means something else. We are all shaped and defined by our experiences and we see the world through our own eyes. That's freedom. That's liberty. The right to believe differently. The right to protest as you will. The right to demand better. The right to believe your country can BE better, that it can live up to its sacred ideals, and the right to loudly note that it has NOT. The right to use your voice, your actions, to bring attention to the things you believe in. The right to want more for others, freedom, liberty, justice, equality, and RESPECT.
"A true veteran might not agree with Colin Kaepernick, but a true veteran would fight to the death to protect his right to say what he believes.
"You don't like what Kaepernick has to say? Then prove him wrong, BE the nation he can respect.
"It's really just that simple."
This closing statement reflects a similar sentiment by the late writer and social critic James Baldwin, "I love America more than any other country in the world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." With recent high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men, Wright makes an important point — that Kaepernick, like any American, has had his own unique experiences as a black man in America and is entitled to an opinion informed by that lived experience. His criticism of this country, then, is fundamentally more American than the backlash against him.
Click here to see Wright's full post: