Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters sat on a trainer’s bench during the national anthem prior to season opener against the New England Patriots on September 7, 2017 at Gillette Stadium. David Eulitt deulitt@kcstar.com
Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters sat on a trainer’s bench during the national anthem prior to season opener against the New England Patriots on September 7, 2017 at Gillette Stadium. David Eulitt deulitt@kcstar.com

Vahe Gregorian

Marcus Peters’ call for Liberty and Justice For All deserves thought, not impulsive rage

By Vahe Gregorian

vgregorian@kcstar.com

September 15, 2017 6:23 PM

As Chiefs fans reach critical mass in the moments before kickoff against the Eagles on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, they’ll be confronted with the trivialization of the national anthem.

But enough about the thousands of people who will yell “home of the Chiefs” at the end of The Star-Spangled Banner …

Ironically, some of those, maybe many, will be outraged if cornerback Marcus Peters again peacefully protests by sitting during the anthem — making a statement he has declined to elaborate on since he took a seat on a training table before the Sept. 7 opener at New England.

These NFL players protested the national anthem in Week 1

Colin Kaepernick started the movement to sit out the national anthem last year as a way to protest racism and inequality. For their first games this season, several more NFL players followed his lead.

Neil Nakahodo and Jeneé Osterheldt The Kansas City Star

Still, his sentiments can succinctly be summed up.

In a tweet he posted hours before the game, Peters displayed the bottoms of shoes inscribed with the words “LIBERTY” and “JUSTICE FOR ALL.”

The combined message was somehow seen by some as so outrageous that Peters was condemned on social media and Star columnist Jenee Osterheldt was pelted with appalling abuse in reaction to a column endorsing Peters.

“My country, right or wrong,” they say — omitting the eloquent point added to the term by U.S. Senator Carl Schurz of Missouri in 1872:

“If right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

That’s all these protests are ultimately about, trying to make things more right by way of an utterly American exercise of rights that our armed services have sacrificed so much to preserve and protect.

How such a stand has been appropriated as inherently anti-military by some is puzzling.

And, yes, that includes to many who have served, such as “Veterans for (Colin) Kaepernick” and to Chiefs receiver Chris Conley — who grew up on bases as his father spent 20 years in the U.S. Air Force.

Having the freedoms we have, his father told Conley, was what they fought for — “not necessarily for a flag or a song.”

His father loves his country, he adds, but “doesn’t understand what the flag worship” attached to football is all about.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘Oh, if you sit you’re a thug,’ or ‘you don’t appreciate this country and the people who go out there and sacrifice for your safety,’” Conley said Friday. “I don’t agree with that. I have family who served in the military … I appreciate them, and I appreciate their service. I know we would not be here without them.

“But at the same time when someone does something peaceful, in protest, of some things they’ve seen in this country that they don’t think are right or agree with, I applaud that. I think that’s the reason we have our constitutional rights, I think that’s the reason many people go overseas to serve — is for those rights.

“And everyone that I’ve talked to who has recently served, or some of the people I’ve talked to who are serving now, have said that they applaud those people for taking those steps.

“Even when it’s not necessarily the popular thing to do: ‘We fight for the right to do those things, so that we don’t end up like some of the countries that don’t have those rights.’”

Including countries where they might not think ad-libbing part of the national anthem is appropriate.

This isn’t to say that all in the Chiefs locker room think Peters should sit, by the way.

And while it was an internet hoax that owner Clark Hunt said he would “fire” anyone who sat during the anthem, the Chiefs say his stance remains unchanged from what he said a year ago about anthem protests.

“It’s not something where I’ve spoken specifically to the players or any specific player about it,” he said then. “But the entire teams know that our desire is for them to stand during the national anthem.”

Coach Andy Reid reiterated this point on Friday.

But he also was careful to offer respect and sensitivity for all sides of the equation that we could all benefit from.

“I stand because that’s my beliefs,” Reid said. “That’s also our owner’s beliefs. And the statement that he made last year, we abide by that. I mean, we follow that. But (Hunt) also understands that other part, too.”

Which is to say …

“Everybody has a voice in this country, and however they (use) it, they (use) it,” Reid said. “That’s one of the great things about this country.”

As for where Peters is coming from?

“Listen, as a head coach you deal with all kinds of people, and you have a full understanding of people’s beliefs,” said Reid, who said Peters through his foundation does important work that includes police participation in what he called a “carnival.”

“That’s a part that I know that people don’t know.”

(An Oakland police spokesperson on Friday afternoon was trying to clarify that but was not immediately able to provide any information.)

More locally, Conley, who is very active in the community and a social-justice advocate via Twitter, said Chiefs players are continuing to seek out ways to work with law enforcement in Kansas City.

“Just this week another opportunity has come to us,” he said, without specifying. “Hopefully, we’ll get the ball rolling on something.

“I think that not only can you draw attention to (racial injustice) by protest but you also have to take steps in the day-to-day like that to do something about it.”

As for why he won’t sit himself, Conley said he believes the best use of his own platform is to “use my voice and my actions and the opportunities that I do have to speak to law enforcement or to speak to people who are in the military or to speak to people who feel like they feel they’ve had something done to them they feel is unjust (and to) deal with people on all sides of this thing.”

Meanwhile, Reid has not felt the need to discuss this with the team, because he sees no internal issues or distractions.

He has spoken about it with Peters, who told Reid it’s not about military or police but about a better world for children.

“If he had something to say in the big picture of things,” Reid said, it’s that “we all get along and have a great world. That’s a beautiful thing.

“In his own way, that’s what he’s trying to express here.”

In the end, that should be the biggest takeaway from this: freedom of expression and trying to consider where others are coming from.

If you don’t want your entertainment to be interrupted, fair enough. It’s obviously your right to protest that, whether by boos or at the box office.

But the gladiators you celebrate for their athletic exploits don’t just live for your amusement, and maybe it’s worth trying to understand why instead of assuming things about them.

Peters has no obligation to talk about it, and maybe it couldn’t be said any better than LIBERTY and JUSTICE FOR ALL.

Still, he perhaps could help the cause by elaborating on what he wants to get across and sharing what in his own experiences has made this important to him.

Explaining won’t matter to a certain segment of people who will support him no matter what and to those who will demonize him no matter what.

But maybe he could make some friends of enemies and offer something meaningful to those who are in between who just want to comprehend this.

Failing that, though, Conley makes a simple request.

“People who are upset about the protests either jump to a conclusion about what the person who sits is trying to say. Or they don’t take a moment to try to understand someone else’s point of view,” he said, later adding, “I think there needs to be a little bit of a moment of reprieve, where people need to step back and not get so emotional, and try to understand.

“Try to understand in those moments when you don’t necessarily agree with some one. And instead of blatantly disrespecting someone’s humanity, just try to understand a little bit.”

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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