Further Review

Steve Hummer's Further Review blog offers comments, asides and quick hits on the state of sports

Army-Navy players close ranks on anthem issue

Between the parachute teams falling from the sky and the various flyovers rattling teeth and calling all the spectators’ finer hairs to attention, they’ll get around to belting out the national anthem before the Army-Navy game.

As is common throughout college football, neither team will be on the field at the time. Too bad. 

Not that anyone’s worried about any kneeling going on in protest, as occasionally practiced by these players’ larger, more athletic cousins in the NFL. That couldn’t/wouldn’t happen, of course.

“No, that wouldn’t be an option,” said Army running back Kell Walker, a sophomore from Decatur, one of the many Georgia-born players on both rosters.

Smiling just a little wryly, he added, “We know what we signed up for and what we stand for. That wouldn’t be in our best interests to participate in any of that.”

Some people still maintain that the specter of the occasional NFL player kneeling in protest during the anthem has done serious damage to “The Shield.” Fans just don’t like mixing social comment with their recreational diversions, any more than they would appreciate Bernie Sanders and Sean Hannity taking shifts on ESPN’s SportsCenter. 

Well, what’s going to happen Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia is a world removed from football’s controversy of the moment. Anyone disaffected by the protests is certainly welcome back to football for this game. Army-Navy is all red, white and blue – no gray in between. It is an afternoon to celebrate the better nature of America. This game owns the franchise on patriotism. If anything, you watch and run the risk of overdosing on the soldier and sailor stories and waking up in an enlistment office.  

The topic of those pros who have opted to kneel in protest of social injustice – their numbers declining as the season wears on – is a delicate one for those playing Saturday.

Just as their position in the military prohibits any show of disrespect around the flag and the anthem, it also urges them to outflank all politics.      

So, those who one day may be asked to bleed for that flag are necessarily circumspect on this subject. 

“I’d rather not give my personal opinion,” Navy quarterback Zach Abey said. “I respect everyone’s rights, but personally, being in the military I’d never not salute or stand for the national anthem.”

Army linebacker Kenneth Brinson, a former star at Marist, put it as plainly as he could: “(Kneeling during the anthem) might not be the most effective way to bring light to the issue, but at the end of the day, we fight for those rights to do that.”

Added Walker, “My personal opinion, it’s America, everyone has freedom of speech, to express their own opinions and what they believe in.”

Which is exactly the outlook you want your military to have. Good news for the future.

And that’s all that needs to be said about that.

Now, nothing to serve up Saturday but a heaping helping of feel-good football.

The perfect afternoon to recognize that no opinion has ever moved a scoreboard.  

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About the Author

Steve Hummer writes sports features for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He covers a wide range of sports and topics.