Contempt, disgust, disdain and outrage are some of the emotions I have felt since the despicable practice by NFL players of kneeling for “The Star Spangled Banner.” I applaud President Trump for taking a hard-line approach toward those players who cannot bring themselves to honor our flag or national anthem. 

Why they are kneeling is being debated because the message of the kneelers is not clear. Former 49er Colin Kaepernick said it was to protest police brutality and racial inequality. A columnist for the leftist The Intercept states that “The National Anthem is a Celebration of Slavery.” Mother Jones writer David Corn wrote “The kneel will now become a sign of opposition to Trump.” Presidential candidate Clinton has made kneeling a racist action by declaring that the president’s remarks are “deeply troubling” by “attacking black athletes.” Perhaps she is too color blind to notice the white athletes kneeling.

Football players have a constitutional right to protest. They do not have a right to be free from criticism or consequences. The NFL has rules about “conduct” that might “adversely affect or reflect on the Club” or be “detrimental … to public confidence in the game.” Firing players because of their conduct is specifically authorized.

The NFL has determined that players who wear symbols that promote a cause will be fined. Remember Kaepernick wearing socks that depicted police officers as pigs? Owners are cowards who are afraid of their bottom line and the effect of TV ratings to do what the president suggested – fire them for adverse and detrimental conduct. Attendance is now down 8 percent and TV ratings are down 9-16 percent. One survey indicated 26 percent of those surveyed stopped watching because of the kneeling.

NFL commissioner Goodell blasted President Trump for his “divisive comments” and “lack of respect for the NFL.” Goodell is either so beholden to the owners and players or so obtuse that he cannot understand that many Americans find it “divisive” for players to advocate for political issues on the playing field. Many Americans find it a gross lack of respect when players refuse to stand for the national anthem.

Polls by CBS, Reuters, Marist, CNN and the Remington Research Group show that a majority of Americans support requiring players to stand for the national anthem. USA Today showed a majority supported the players. 

There is a clear divide between political parties in these polls. The CNN poll showed that 87 percent of Republicans believed the players should stand; 72 percent of Democrats say they should not have to stand. The Marist poll indicated that 82 percent of Democrats found the kneeling respectful. Only 9 percent of Republicans agreed with that.

Growing up, I was taught respect for the flag, the national anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance. That was reinforced during my four years at West Point and 26 years of active duty. 

The anthem and flag are symbolic of the overwhelming blessings we have in this country. They are symbolic of the reasons we exist as a nation, yet NFL players in London kneeled for our anthem but stood for the British anthem. Apparently those players never read the Declaration of Independence or paid attention in history class. 

The flag is a symbol for which men and women died to secure the rights of others to show their contempt for our nation and for those who fought for their rights. Those ingrates enjoy blessings they would have in no other country on earth, despite our faults that must be addressed. Denigrating those who fought for their rights is despicable and disgusting. Sept. 24 was Gold Star Mother Day, yet a bunch of ungrateful millionaires who are disconnected from the military were so engrossed in a political stunt that they didn’t care that they disparaged those mothers and their sacrifices. 

Baseball Hall of Famer and Kansas City Athletics player Reggie Jackson once said, “When I’m in the outfield facing the flag, I see kids messing around, laughing and wrestling when the song is being played. Afterward, I go tell them, ‘Either you stand at attention for our national anthem or you go over to China and see how you like it. You don’t stand at attention over there, they shoot you.’”

It is too bad that Chiefs’ Peters and Eligwe do not share Jackson’s patriotism.

If you haven’t heard, a New York professor is now labeling “God Bless America” as a “warmongering” song. This is in addition to attacks on the Pledge of Allegiance for mentioning God. What’s next?

Rich Kiper is a Leavenworth Times columnist.