A Defense of Patriotism in Sports

Jake Bequette, As an athlete, there are certain games that you never forget. Maybe it’s because of a play you made, the energy of the crowd, the stakes involved – or it could be something deeper. One of those games for me came in September of 2011, my senior year on the University of Arkansas football team. We were playing New Mexico, but that’s not why I remember it.

We were commemorating the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock had been transformed into a sea of red, white, and blue. Depending on the section you were in, fans wore color-coded clothing to make the stadium crowd resemble the American flag. Everyone present felt like they were on the same team as we stood in solidarity to remember the lives lost on that September day. It represented the best of what sports can be. It was a moment that no one there will ever forget, but it was a moment that, today, feels like a lifetime ago.

Today, our sports world is increasingly dominated by left-wing ideology. Professional sports leagues tout slogans like “Black Lives Matter” and engage in performative virtue-signaling. These groups have chosen hatred, grievance, and outrage over patriotism, and our country and its culture are the ones who suffer.

We have lost a common unity that used to be inherent in sports. I still remember being on the sidelines before an NFL or college game when every player, coach, and fan would stand with solemn pride as our national anthem played. Scenes like the national anthem performance at the 2005 Super Bowl, which featured the choirs of military academies and the U.S. Army Herald Trumpets, have always inspired the best in us as Americans. Unfortunately, these magnificent scenes of patriotism seem to be a thing of the past in the realm of sports.

Much of it died with Colin Kaepernick. Benched by the San Francisco 49ers, Kaepernick suddenly decided that our country was inherently racist – despite his status as an NFL quarterback with a $126 million contract. Along with other ridiculous antics like wearing cops-as-pigs socks, Kaepernick turned his back on the country that helped him live out his American dream and politicized one of the few remaining shared moments of patriotism in American culture.

We’re living with the consequences of his actions today. Just days ago, the NFL announced their intention to start playing the so-called black national anthem before “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It’s another divisive, anti-American tactic, which is the exact opposite of how I remember my time in the NFL.

When I played for the Patriots, I was in a locker room with teammates of nearly every background our country has to offer. But we were unified. That locker room is also where I met a former Navy SEAL named Dom. He worked with the Patriots, but he had also served with Arkansas native Adam Brown, another Navy SEAL who gave his life in Afghanistan defending this country. Our Patriots teams featured military veterans Eric Kettani, Joe Cardona, and assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia, who always stood at attention while the anthem played. Those experiences taught me more about patriotism and respecting our flag than I could have ever imagined.

That patriotism is one of the reasons I joined the Army. When I deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne division, what brought everyone together was the flag patch on our shoulder. It represented the freedom that we were willing to give our life for and the freedom that so many people across the world desire.

It’s a concept that too many athletes today don’t seem to grasp. Maybe if Gwen Berry or Colin Kapernick could see Iraq or Afghanistan, they would understand what oppression really looks like. Maybe they should take a moment before they consider kneeling or turning their back on the anthem to remember the generations of warriors who gave their lives so that we have the opportunity to live free. Maybe they should think about what our flag represents to scores of oppressed peoples across the globe.

That’s my call to our athletes in the Olympics right now: compete your heart out, but do so proudly under the banner of the United States. Remember that in the Olympics, you are not only representing yourself – you are representing your country.  Choose to be a proud American and choose to proudly stand for the red, white, and blue – or don’t compete at all.

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