CARSON, United States- After two tours of duty in Iraq, Thai Nguyen says he takes it personally when he sees NFL stars protesting during the US national anthem.
“I served in the military for 10 years and I didn’t fight for people to disrespect the flag,” said Nguyen, a telecommunications manager from Murrieta, California.
As an African-American male who has experienced the terror of a gunpoint confrontation with law enforcement, Keystone Johnson has a different perspective.
“I know how it feels to be pulled over because I am black,” Johnson told AFP.
“I know how it feels to have thousands of guns pointed at you and have to lie down in the middle of the street and you haven’t done nothing wrong but come out of your house.”
The contrasting views of Nguyen and Johnson, fellow Philadelphia Eagles fans gathering ahead of their team’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers here Sunday, neatly reflect how the issue of protests during renditions of The Star Spangled Banner have divided America’s most popular sport.
Scattered protests continued across the NFL on Sunday, a week after an unprecedented wave of demonstrations by players responding to a tirade by President Donald Trump.
Trump created a firestorm of criticism when he described players who kneel during the anthem as “sons of bitches” who should be fired.
The protests began in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem to draw attention to racial injustice.
A recent poll by CBS News found 52 percent of Americans disapproved of athletes protesting during the anthem while 38 percent said they approved.
That divide was on display amongst fans of the Eagles and the Chargers on Sunday as they partied in the parking lot outside the StubHub Center before kick-off.
Some said the players are showing disrespect for the anthem, flag and country and should come up with alternative ways to voice their concern about inequality and police brutality.
Others said taking a knee during The Star-Spangled Banner is a gesture of humility and not ire.
“We are all Americans and we are all proud to be American,” said Chargers fan Phil Epling, who was “tailgating” in the stadium parking lot before the game with friends.
“I don’t like the fact they do the protest during the anthem because that flag represents all the people who have died in this country fighting for freedom.”
“I don’t mind them protesting but I do mind them protesting during the national anthem,” said the 41-year-old San Diego caretaker.
“Basically the national anthem represents a lot of things for America — freedom, prosperity, the right for an individual to go from absolutely nothing to as high as they want to be in life.”
Three quarters of the players in America’s most popular sport are black.
Angela Scott, of Inglewood, agrees with the players and says they are doing it to shed light on inequality and police brutality.
“I respect what they are standing for. I love being an American but what I understand is right now being an American in America doesn’t feel comfortable as an African-American,” said the 43-year-old.
“We don’t want to be in any other country, guaranteed, but when it comes to how we are treated in 2017, we are not feeling very good.”
John Neis, 42, agrees with the players being allowed to take a knee or sit and says it has nothing to do with dishonouring the military or the flag.
“Everybody has the right to do it,” said the videographer from Hollywood. “It absolutely doesn’t disrespect the soldiers. The soldiers fought for the constitution and not the flag.
“So I think the issue that was originally brought up is important as far as finding justice for all races. But I wish it was less about Trump and more about the issue.”
Neis sides with a good number of Americans who feel Trump has handled the issue poorly and is simply saying whatever he thinks his voters want to hear.
“He is uneducated on the issue. But he has taken a stance to pander to his base.
“There are a gazillion things more important in the world for him to care about. But unfortunately his base finds this important so he is saying whatever he thinks they want to hear.”