We had a great run this morning, albeit only three of us. And afterwards, I told the group I didn’t really have a prepared devotional this week. But I did share with them my thoughts on what’s tearing apart our country right now….this national anthem controversy.
Like many of you, I can’t breathe lately without getting bombarded by someone’s thoughts on the matter. I think my Facebook feed has just as many opinions on the matter as there are constellations in the sky. While I remain as open minded as possible, just when I think I’m getting swayed to one side of the issue, then I read or hear another angle and I’m immediately back to an “undecided” status.
I have been mostly moved, however, by the story surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers football player, Alejandro Villaneuva. If you asked me this past Sunday, I would have surmised that Villaneuva went out on his own to stand at the end of the tunnel leading into the stadium, stood firmly at attention, and paid respects during the playing of the national anthem, while the rest of his teammates, under “orders” from the head coach, Mike Tomlin, remained inside the locker room. The team had decided during a meeting the night before that they would be unified in remaining away from the fray of some players kneeling and other players standing.
But yet, there was Villaneauva, a graduate of West Point, former Army Ranger Captain, who earned a Bronze Star while deployed three times to Afghanistan, appearing to go against “orders” and doing what he felt was right….doing what he was trained to do from the military academy and from his service to our armed forces.
As one might imagine, the media took the images and story and ran with it. Some news outlets made Villaneuva out to be a hero, a patriot, and someone who put his country above football. Some of that might actually be true. I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. I listened to Villaneuva’s press conference on Tuesday and I saw this giant of a man, humbled by his actions and what he felt was a great team plan that was butchered in its execution. There were no excuses during the press conference. The football player simply and humbly took sole responsibility for the situation.
Villaneuva explained how he was 100% behind his team, behind the coach. How he had asked Ben Roethlisberger if he could just peer out far enough into the tunnel so he could see the flag.
Just far enough.
But far enough turned out to be too far.
Villaneuva was taken over by emotions, I suspect. And when pressed to make a quick decision, he did just that….he made a decision, standing at attention, hand over his heart, paying respect as he had done some many time wearing the uniform as a cadet, the uniform as an Army officer, and the uniform as a National Football Player.
I can only imagine how he was feeling before his actions, during, and in the 48 hours that had passed before Tuesday’s press conference.
Is there anything more ironic to the situation then knowing the name of the stadium where all this took place is….Soldier Field in Chicago.
In the press conference, Villanueva said the following:
“So we as a team tried to figure it out, obviously butchered it, but I have learned that I don’t know what it’s like to be from Dade County, I don’t know what it’s like to be from Lakeland, I can’t tell you that I know what my teammates have gone through. So I’m not going to pretend that I have the righteous sort of voice to tell you that you should stand up for the national anthem. It is protected by our constitution, and by our country, it’s a freedom of speech. People felt that based on the comments the president made that they had to go out and support Colin Kaepernick, and that’s completely their right. But it’s not something we’re trying to do with the Steelers, we’re trying to be unified, and unfortunately I made the team look sort of all over the place and not unified. It was a very unfortunate sort of 48 hours for me.”
We’re in a mess right now and not just with this simple story of a football player.
Over the weekend, I had memories of standing on a parade field at West Point, on a crisp fall morning. There we were, all dressed up like toy soldiers, bringing our rifles to the “salute” position….while the national anthem played. And at the end of the final portion of the cadet review, were always the words….”Go Army….Beat Navy!”
The crowds gathered (who we affectionately called the “GAP”…”great American public”)…always loved the outburst against West Point’s arch-rival, the Naval Academy.
I am forever grateful for the quality education I received, the lessons I learned, and the moral compass I developed….all on our taxpayers’ dime.
The flag and respect for it mean a ton to me. Just ask my wife or my kids. They know. And more than most, I’ve earned the right to be upset about any disrespect to the those same ideals that I hold so sacred…Duty, Honor, Country, the motto of West Point.
But here’s the other side of those feelings. I know that my love of the flag and my love of this country also means I am tolerant of those who are allowed to display many things that I am ultimately opposed to saying and doing. Does that make me wrong for tolerance or make others wrong for disobedience?
I’m stuck in the middle, as I mentioned earlier.
I am comforted in knowing that God is in the middle of all this with me. And with you. And with this country. And yes, He’s even there with our leaders who might be stirring the pot with divisive language.
There are so many other things I’d like to be worried about. This is far down on that list.
We need prayer. And I don’t just mean that as a cliche’ saying in a weekly devotional.
The world depends on it.
You depend on it.
And I do too.