It was the bottom of the fourth inning of a day game at Dodger Stadium, April 25, 1976. Two protesters trespassed onto the playing field with an American flag they had doused with lighter fluid. Before they were able to strike a match to ignite the flag, Chicago Cubs centerfielder Rick Monday dashed past and snatched away the flag. The fans roared cheers of approval. The stadium video board flashed a message, “Rick Monday, you made a great play.”
Monday is still in possession of that flag, although he has been offered thousands of dollars for it. According to Monday, “The irony is the flag that they attempted to desecrate that afternoon is something my wife and I have taken across the country and have used to raise more than $500,000 for military charities.” Monday himself served in the Marine Corps Reserves for six years.
A few years ago, Men’s Health Magazine published a list of “the 50 Greatest Moments in Baseball History.” Rick Monday’s rescue of the American flag was listed at #23.
Last Sunday, all over America, and even in London, England where the Jaguars and the Ravens were playing, members of NFL teams knelt in protest as the American flag was presented and the national anthem was played. (The players who knelt in London during the Star Spangled Banner stood for the Union Jack and the playing of God Save the Queen.) The players claim to be protesting racism and police brutality in American society, and insist that they are exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Several points of clarification ought to be made. First, there is no constitutional right to engage in political protest while on the job. A UPS driver, wearing his brown uniform, cannot hang a political banner on his delivery truck. A restaurant waiter cannot refuse service to a soldier or police officer. Well, actually they can. But they would doubtless be fired from their jobs. For NFL owners to tell their players not to engage in political protests in the stadium (their work place) on game day while wearing their team uniform, is not unconstitutional.
Second, saluting the flag has never before been viewed as a partisan act. Our history, heritage, and constitution are the same for all citizens. Patriotism should not be based on whether the president is Republican or Democrat.
Third, for Christians, demonstrating respect to the nation is an obligation. The apostle Peter wrote, ”honor the king.” (I Pet. 2:7) Paul instructed Christians to appreciate government, obey the law, and show respect. (Rom. 13:1-7)
Fourth, although America is not all it ought to be (it never will be), there is no nation on earth today that provides more liberty, justice, or opportunity for its citizens than the United States. The protesting football players who make in a single season more money than most Americans do in a lifetime ought to consider this fact before they inveigh against the social injustice of their country.
Lastly, there is no disputing that minorities, particularly African Americans, face challenges others do not. Being pulled over for “driving while black” is an experience I have never had. I imagine that it is humiliating and frustrating. However, there are challenges more significant than occasional subtle expressions of racism. Today 75% of black children are born to unwed mothers. Children from fatherless homes are far more likely to live in poverty, drop out of school, use drugs, join gangs, commit crime, go to jail. Perhaps some NFL players ought to protest the breakdown of the family. If black lives matter, perhaps some NFL players ought to stop protesting abuse by rogue police officers (which rarely occurs) and instead protest the astronomical black-on-black murder rate in Chicago.
It is sad that many of our sports heroes today have such mixed up values and confused priorities. Instead of being grateful, patriotic role models, many professional athletes have become un-American agitators.
I keep hoping a Rick Monday will race onto the playing field again.