The fall season is in full force. Leaves are changing colors; days are getting shorter; the temperature is cooling. Football has returned to ETSU, and the NFL has kicked off a new season, but wait there is a twist.

You can’t watch a game now without arguing what I have come to call pop-politics.

Pop-politics are the top stories and events that you hear about on major broadcast and cable-news outlets that do not pertain to policy, security or improper spending, fraud, waste and/or abuse of position or money. These are the political stories such as, but not limited to, what dress the first lady is wearing, how a dignitary disrespected somebody or what the president is tweeting. Pop-politics are the stories 24-hour news outlets rely on for ratings, not stories that inform the public.

The current pop-political story is President Trump’s Twitter giving new presence of stage to a protest that started during the NFL’s 2016 preseason.

In August 2016 backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the playing of the U.S. national anthem. After the game he made a statement to NFL media that he would not “stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

Before President Trump began to tweet about the issue, this protest was limited to a large handful of players, celebrities and fans. The anti-protest was limited to a minority of fans who were calling for boycotts of the NFL, something that is unrealistic with the popularity that the NFL enjoys.

After President Trump began tweeting about this issue, Americans have seen droves of people flock to support Kaepernick and his cause. Players, owners, coaches and fans have all knelt or locked arms in symbolized solidarity with Kaepernick.

In response to all of the social media posts, speeches and videos I have seen, all of which are given by people stating something along the lines of how a veteran/military member feels about the issue. As a veteran, I’d like to voice my own opinion. I do not speak for all veterans. Just like I am tired of people speaking on my behalf, I am not here to speak for all veterans. The following opinion is one of many that is out there.

This may come as a shock to a lot of people, but Kaepernick has every right to kneel during the national anthem.

Yes, I said it. He and everybody else can do whatever they want during the playing of the national anthem because we do not live in a totalitarian dictatorship. I fought and defended Kaepernick’s right to peacefully protest however he sees fit. I will continue to uphold my oath to defend his right to do so. I will not boycott the NFL and while I am at it, the players deserve to make millions of dollars.

Is his protest disrespectful? Yes, I believe it is. It pains me every time I see somebody kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, of the very country that gives him or her the right to do so. It is an oxymoron that I for one do not understand.

I also spoke with another veteran on the record about the issue to give more than one veteran’s opinion. My hope with this is to give a little clarity from a veteran’s perspective.

Student Veterans of America member Cory Moore shares my sentiment but added, “They [protesters that kneel] are teaching a lot of young kids in school to give up on the country.”

Moore feels the most dangerous part of the protest is seeing the youngest generations of Americans kneeling during the anthem. He said it sends the wrong message, and it is disrespectful to the men and women who have died to give Kaepernick the right to kneel, but it is his right.

My personal feelings are similar to Moore’s. This country, its flag and that song have inspired some people to greatness of all colors to champion the words printed in the Constitution. Yes, there are struggles and yes, the road is a hard one. There have been dark days in the country’s past that have been paid for in blood.

As a veteran, I wish Kaepernick would choose a different way to convey his message. As a fan of the NFL, I wish that I could just watch a football game without arguing pop-politics. As a U.S. citizen, I wish President Trump would focus on policy and stop distracting the nation with this primal obsession of “us vs. them.”

It is time that the country stops arguing about the color of a man’s skin and look into his heart for true character. My ultimate wish would be for the citizens of this nation to rise above the pettiness of others. I wish the people of this nation could recognize a “red-herring” argument and quickly dispose of it in a mature manner so that we can get on to solving real issues.

Right now we are arguing, and President Trump’s administration is rewriting the U.S.’s tax code. Are they trying to distract us?