In Defense of the First Amendment
A recent occurrence at ESPN caught my and much of America’s attention: Kevin Blackistone, during an episode of ESPN’s Around the Horn, called the “Star Spangled Banner” a “war anthem” full of “military symbolism” and implied that the national anthem should not be sung at sports venues.
I strongly disagree with Kevin Blackistone’s statements and his position on the singing of the national anthem prior to sporting events. I’ve been involved in sports my entire life, and as long as sports have been in my life, so has the singing of our national anthem. From playing football in the third grade on the recreational fields of Texas to my years as a player on the New England Patriots, I have united with fans and fellow athletes to sing with honor our national anthem.
As a broadcaster for over twenty years, I’ve stood in countless booths prior to kickoffs and sang the national anthem. Time and again, I’ve marveled at the pride exemplified through fans passionately singing the national anthem. And I believe that there is no greater example of the unifying effect the anthem has on a team, on a community, and on our country than when it was sung at football games following the attacks on America in September of 2001.
Despite my complete opposition to Mr. Blackistone’s statements, I’m actually here to support his freedom to hold such a viewpoint. While I disagree with him, I’m proud that, in America, Mr. Blackistone has the freedom to have his own opinion about our national anthem and its role at sporting events. And I say kudos to ESPN for not firing Mr. Blackistone, despite the numerous comments on message boards from people who don’t agree with his statements!
Unfortunately, our nation is presently in a place where a person cannot hold an opinion without being blasted by those holding the opposing view. Those on each side of an issue believe that their opinions are facts and, dangerously, should not be opposed. It’s a mentality of “my way or the highway,” with only invective thrown about and no true discourse or debate. This type of cultural behavior is causing divisiveness and can have fatal results for our country. Remember that America’s infrastructure isn’t based on one-way streets.
I was recently on the receiving end of just such an attack. Late Sunday evening of this past Labor Day weekend, my phone rang. It was my boss from Fox Sports Southwest, calling to tell me I was fired. This same person had, just a few weeks earlier, asked if I’d be interested in a show for which he had an opening. I was excited by the opportunity and agreed to his offer to become a sports analyst on his weekly Saturday night college football post game show. I was on this program for a total of sixty minutes: one show. That’s it for my time with the Fox Sports division.
According to a statement from Fox Sports to the Dallas Morning News, I was fired because of my Biblical belief of what the definition of marriage is. Fifteen months prior to my going on the air, I was a candidate for the U.S. Senate seat in Texas. During a candidate debate, I answered a moderator’s question about my definition of marriage. I answered that I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. My belief comes from God’s words in the Bible. I believe all of the Bible, not just the parts that make life easier for me.
Did Fox Sports bow to the pressure from outsiders who didn’t agree with my definition of marriage? It’s important to remember that I didn’t say one word on Fox Sports’ air about politics or about my beliefs regarding marriage. I’ve since engaged Liberty Institute to help make sure that Fox Sports understands that, in America, it is wrong to punish someone for their Biblical beliefs.
This past week, I had the privilege of taking a tour of our nation’s Capitol. Our tour guide was David Barton, an expert on American history. David fascinated our small group with intimate details of our Founding Fathers and what they were thinking as they put in place the foundation that would support America and make it an exceptional country.
Two key facts that David discussed during our tour of the Capitol really stood out. First, our elected leaders have always asked God for guidance, wisdom, and blessings. Second, the United States stands for freedom; freedom for all. Freedom to pick and choose as we so desire, subject to reasonable responsibility and obeying the laws of the land.
I’m thankful for the tradition we have at sporting events of taking time before the games to honor America by singing the national anthem. But I respect the freedom of everyone to hold an opinion or have a belief, even if it is different than mine. Please respect my right to have an opinion too, even if it is different than yours.