NFL Protesters Must Be Making Their Professors Proud

By Tom Gilson Published on September 30, 2017

With so many arguments swirling around the NFL players’ protests, I wish I could feel more optimistic about any of it making any difference. But I doubt the arguments will matter. Respect for our flag and the nation it symbolizes is a matter of learned appreciation, and many if not most of the NFL’s protesters have never been taught to appreciate what’s good in America.

Few Americans under 35 or 40 have. For most, our nation’s flaws are pretty much all that’s been taught about America.

This is tragic. As history it’s incomplete and therefore distorted. It fosters hateful division as a result, where mutually respectful engagement is needed instead. Worse yet, it cuts us off from the parts of our heritage that could guide us toward real justice.

The Founders Were Right

For the founders were right in so many ways: All men are created equal, and ought to be treated that way under law. Government is a means to enabling justice if its power is both divided and limited, and if its focus is on securing rights rather than expanding its reach. Virtue is key to successful self-government.

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All brilliant ideas. They weren’t born out of thin air in Philadelphia, but here in our country they were put into real practice for the first time.

The massive missing piece, of course, was the awareness that “all men” could and should have included all humans. It was a huge error with massive, costly effects upon far too many people.

Have Americans forgotten our stories? I used to live in Yorktown, Virginia. When my daughter’s American History class took a field trip to Surrender Field, where America finally secured its victory over the British in the Revolutionary War, they walked to get there. It was quicker than taking a bus.

For several years my commute took me right by the still-visible earthworks from which Washington’s and Lafayette’s soldiers had laid siege to Cornwallis and his troops.

When I traveled the country and people asked where I was from, I would answer, “I’m from historic Yorktown, Virginia.” I can’t tell you how often that answer was met with puzzled eyes.

“Historic?” they would ask blankly. “What was historic about Yorktown?” Not much, I would silently tell myself before giving the person the history — a history they should have known.

Still, there was much in it that was good and right, and that could still provide the basis for Americans coming together in harmony, trust and justice. Our country’s founding principles still have power to bring life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all humans, created equal as we are.

In other words, though we are a flawed country, we are a great country. We have great stories to tell — stories of freedom and courage. “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country!” “As for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

It seems a lot of football players have forgotten that stories like these explain how it is they even have the right to protest.

Two Groups

History is no longer being taught as it was when I was in school. This is about a complete rejection of certain aspects of our history and culture. Students at Yale will have nothing to do with “dead white males.” Elsewhere the chant, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western culture’s got to go” has borne fruit in what one writer calls “the genocide of dead white males.”

Philosopher John Searle has analyzed at length the heated dispute between two educational camps. One group thinks that “Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular, have on the whole been the source of valuable institutions that should be preserved and of traditions that should be transmitted.”

The other group says that “Western civilization in general, and the United States in particular, are in large part oppressive, imperialist, patriarchal, hegemonic, and in need of replacement, or at least of transformation.”

The latter group is winning in many high schools. It’s winning on most university campuses. NFL players’ professors must be proud of them now.

Unless More Americans Learn

Unless more Americans learn to think of our country as great though flawed, more and more people will see it only as flawed. And I mean really learn, through a balanced, critical yet appreciative approach to our history and culture.

Professional football players are products of their education. They’ve been taught that America isn’t worthy of respect. Why should we expect them to treat it as if it were?

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