Kaepernick, when he still played for the San Francisco 49ers, in 2016. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

A woman confronted me as I stepped off my wife’s motorcycle to complain…about my choice in footwear.

“I cannot believe you are disgracing our flag and our military,” she said.  “You should be ashamed of yourself, wearing those unpatriotic Nike sneakers.”

I laughed.

That just enraged her more. “What’s so funny?”

“I’m afraid you are,” I said. “I wear these shoes because they are comfortable and, as far as I know, Nike has not done anything unpatriotic.”

She then launched into the protests of Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL football player who started the kneeling during national anthems at games to spotlight what he sees as excessive killings of African-Americans by law enforcement officers.

She continued to bitch about how kneeling is, somehow, an affront to the flag and the military.

“I’m sorry, ma’am, but I see it differently,” I answered.  “The flag represents the freedoms enjoyed by all Americans and the military fought and many died to protect those freedoms.”

She walked away, muttering.

I was going to let the confrontation go, but a staff sergeant with the U.S. Army’s Psychological Operations Regiment and who served in Afghanistan, agrees with my feelings.

Noting that both the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion calls such protests “disrespectful,” Sgt. Salli Puri wrote in The Washington Post:

This reasoning is rooted in a premise that is both wrong and dangerous. If kneeling for the anthem and the flag is a direct offense toward the military, that means veterans have a stronger claim to these symbols than Americans in general do. The argument insists that American iconography represents us more than it represents anyone else.

Yet the flag is not a symbol reserved for the military. It is a symbol of the United States of America, and it belongs equally to all citizens, including Americans who kneel during the anthem, or those who wear flag shirts (which is also in violation of the unenforceable flag code), or even those who burn the flag.

If we accept the idea that the military and veterans have authority over American symbols, we enforce a very narrow minority view of America and the American experience. Our cultural fabric is as rich as it is because the American myth has been interpreted, reinterpreted, criticized, praised and challenged by Americans of all backgrounds.

We are not an elite class of citizen elevated above our neighbors. When we start thinking of ourselves as a warrior caste, removed from the people we defend, we exacerbate the civilian-military divide. We indulge in an entitlement mentality that isn’t healthy, demanding special treatment, such as discounts or restrictions on fireworks that might upset vets with post-traumatic stress disorder. The message is, You’re welcome for my service .

What’s more, believing that we have a special claim to the flag conflicts with the fundamental values of the armed forces, which elevate service over self. Serving is an honor the American people grant us, and it is Americans — in their totality — whom we serve. This does not give us license to appropriate national symbols as our own exclusive banners. Service is a privilege, not a way to purchase greater moral authority.

Thank you, Sgt. Puuri.  You said it better than anyone I’ve heard about this mess.

I will continue to wear Nike sneakers, among other brands, if I like. I also go to restaurants or movie theaters who exercise their rights to ban weapons within their doors.

Boycotts are too often expressions of anger and that emotion is one that I was able to discard long ago.

Donald Trump tried to force the NFL to fire any player who chose to kneel.  It didn’t happen. He claims kneeling is unpatriotic but like just about everything else he claims, it just another lie by a corrupt, racist president.

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