Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert explained in a powerful essay over the weekend why he chooses to stand during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
In a Medium post titled “Why I Stand,” Eifert took an indirect shot at former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began the rash of national anthem protests in 2016, when he refused to stand because of perceived racial injustices in the U.S.
Rather than rattle off a list of reasons why he refuses to participate in the national anthem before the start of each NFL game, Eifert chose instead to list the five reasons he does stand for the “Star-Spangled Banner.”Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
“I stand because I want to honor the people putting their lives on the line for me on a daily basis in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard,” the athlete wrote.
Eifert, who has played in the NFL since 2013, went on to explain that his cousin is a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, “risking his life flying F-15s in active war zones” — a risk the player noted “all members of every branch of the United States military willfully take.”
The NFL star revealed plans to combat the negative attention surrounding the league as a result of the Kaepernick-inspired protest with a tradition of his own. Before each game, Eifert explained, he will be writing the name of a different military member — “whether active, retired, killed or missing in action, or a prisoner of war” — on the heels of his shoes.
The first name on Eifert’s list is Pat Tillman, the former Arizona Cardinals player who declined a multimillion-dollar contract to fight alongside his brother in the U.S. Army following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Tillman died in Afghanistan in 2004.
“In 2002, he walked away from millions of dollars and a ‘dream’ most people couldn’t imagine achieving to do one thing, fight for his country,” Eifert wrote. “Pat wasn’t fighting for himself, he wasn’t fighting for one group vs. another; he was fighting for Americans.”Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Now 15 years later, Eifert admitted he’s “sad” to see the division that is plaguing America. The one thing that can unify us, the athlete noted, is the flag.
“In this world of turmoil, I still believe in one thing strongly and that’s the flag and everything our country was built on,” he wrote:
As I stand for the national anthem, I don’t want there to be questions of why I am standing or if I will kneel. I want there to be a clear understanding of why I stand. I want there to be a clear understanding of why I respect our flag and why I love our country.
Eifert ended his post by encouraging readers to check out K9s for Warriors, the nation’s largest provider of service dogs to military veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disability.
“I respect my fellow players right to kneel during the national anthem,” he concluded, “but I hope everyone now knows why I stand, and respects that as well.”