In 2016, quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the playing of The National Anthem at a preseason football game. He wanted his demonstration to bring attention to the disadvantaged and abused people of color in America.
His actions sparked a counter-protest throughout the world of sports. “Taking a knee” has become a regular occurrence at football games from the National Football League (NFL) down to high school scrimmages. Despite Kaepernick and other players’ reasoning and right to protest, fans across the nation divided. According to the number of followers on the official Facebook page, Boycott The NFL, at least over 280,000 people who “like” the page consider the taking a knee a disrespect to the American military and now refuse to watch or sponsor the league.
But how does boycotting a football league help veterans? Fighting the NFL because players won’t stand for a song does nothing to stop the problems soldiers face when they return home. We, as Americans, have become so obsessed with combating ideals that we have forgotten to conquer tangible problems. Veterans in need will not be empowered by your social media posts, but they could be helped by your direct action.
Last year alone, various organizations found huge, unacceptable numbers of disadvantaged veterans. The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) released the statistics calculated by their annual count, or “snapshot,” of homeless veterans in January. They found just under 40,000 veterans were homeless on a single night. The VA also discovered more than one fifth of all veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) also had Substance Use Disorder (SUD). The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported over 453,000 unemployed veterans the same year.
Each number represents a person our country was supposed to protect when he or she returned from protecting us. Veterans sacrificed their time and risked their mental stability and physical health to defend our freedoms. How do we look after them? Apparently, we boycott football games.
Support or don’t support whatever you want, but remember to actually get involved and help where you can. Places like Missouri Veterans Endeavor and St. Patrick’s Center serve the St. Louis area as two of over a dozen homeless shelters and discounted apartment complexes that offer special programs to help veterans get back on their feet. They continuously look for volunteers to help perform tasks ranging from daily food distribution to organizing major fundraisers.
A donation of time can go a long way. You do not have to be a millionaire to help the cause. If you find yourself proudly sitting in your heated home this winter thinking how patriotic you are for boycotting the game that Sunday, consider the difference you could make instead by volunteering at a shelter or a VA hospital.
The NFL will continue to flourish and make millions without you watching, but our veterans need your assistance now. We need to wage battles with results worth winning. We need to dismiss wars where the only thing to gain is a thin sense of pride.