Editorial: 9/11 and free speech – sacrifice is why we all can express views

As we pause to reflect on the attacks on this country by 19 Al Qaida terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001, one of the hot-button background debates is Nike’s new marketing contract with Colin Kaepernick – presented to us as someone who sacrificed everything for what he believed in.

It would also be appropriate today to think about another professional football player who made the ultimate sacrifice for what he believed: Pat Tillman, who gave up a lucrative NFL career to enlist in the Army after 9/11. And whose wife says would be among the first to support all Americans’ rights to express themselves.

Both men illustrate the American experience.

Kaepernick, a one-time starting quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, triggered the ongoing debate over players kneeling during the national anthem at pro football games to protest racial injustice and police brutality against African-Americans.

Kaepernick has not been picked up by another NFL team after becoming a free agent in 2017, despite having skills superior to some backups and perhaps even some starters, presumably because to date no team wants the baggage he brings, injecting political activism into a commercial product – the NFL – which promotes patriotism as part of its pre-game pageantry.

Yet, now he has inked a lucrative Nike deal thought to be worth millions a year while he fights to get back into the league by pursuing a case of collusion by owners.

Certainly Kaepernick has a First Amendment right to protest. There is racial injustice. The question is, can he do it at “work”? His deal is part of Nike’s “Just Do It” marketing campaign, and has sparked both praise and backlash. You can go out and buy Nike stuff because you like it and support Kaepernick, or you can cover up the “swoosh,” and tell yourself you’ll never spend another buck on Nike apparel and tune out the NFL if you don’t like the protests. That’s how it works in America.

And while many have expressed outrage at Kaepernick taking a knee and vowed a Nike boycott, Nike sales have increased 31 percent since his ad went public last week and, after an initial hit, Nike stock rebounded Monday to pre-Kaepernick levels.

Tillman, also a strong believer in free speech, was an Arizona State University graduate and budding star with the Arizona Cardinals who won a spot in the Pro Bowl in 2000.

He was deeply moved by the attacks on America – in which terrorists crashed hijacked airliners into the twin towers and the Pentagon, and were prevented from striking another target by a courageous band of passengers who lost their lives in a Pennsylvania field.

Tillman gave up his NFL career and paycheck, as did his brother, who had signed with the Cleveland Indians, to enlist in the Army.

Tillman served in Iraq and was redeployed to Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan. He was killed in a firefight and his death became a source of controversy after the Army hid the fact he died of “friendly fire” from U.S. soldiers.

Last fall, Trump mentioned Tillman’s death when criticizing Kaepernick for kneeling.

Tillman’s widow, Marie, issued a statement asking that her husband’s name not be used in such a way. “The very action of self expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart – no matter those views – is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for.”

The 9/11 attacks staggered the United States. The death toll that day was 2,996. More than 6,000 were injured and there was $10 billion of property damage. Many others, including first responders, have died or are suffering from cancer and respiratory diseases related to 9/11. The events also launched us into a military action that continues to this day in Afghanistan and elsewhere as the global war on terror continues.

As we pause today on the anniversary of 9/11, it’s worth taking a moment to think about the many men and women who have served in the U.S. military, fought and died to give all of us a right to express our views.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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