New Orleans Saints tight end Benjamin Watson took to Facebook to comment on the Confederate flag at the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse, saying its removal “does not address the heart of the matter.”
The slaughter of nine churchgoers in Charleston has re-energized calls to remove symbols of the Old Confederacy, including a park named for Robert E. Lee in Baltimore and a statue of Jefferson Davis in Austin. The flag on the grounds of the capitol in Columbia appears in the cross-hairs of those gunning for imagery of the Old South .
The NFL veteran his 12th season, sharing a story from his youth, states that if South Carolina takes the flag down as a public relations move, rather than from a legitimate change of heart of its people, then the retirement of the symbol of the Old Confederacy would solve nothing.
I can remember visiting a teammate’s home for the first time my sophomore year. Frank, a white offensive guard on my high school football team, had quickly become my closest friend, welcoming me, the new guy, when others weren’t so quick to do so. As I walked into his room, I froze, staring uncomfortably at the large Rebel flag, hanging above his bed. I remember the lump in my throat as I briefly attempted to convey in the most non-condemning way, what the flag represented to me and many others like me. Because of the lingering heaviness of the moment, I can’t recall much after that but I do remember how valued I felt, when I returned to Frank’s home some time later and the flag was gone! He didn’t have to, but because he cared about our friendship, because he cared about me, he empathetically removed the offensive banner on my behalf and maybe for the first time heard how painful that symbol could be. That day was a turning point in our relationship and today; Frank continues to be one of my best friends.
It should not take the brutal, senseless killings of innocent black Americans in a church by a young white man, to ensure the removal of the confederate battle flag from the State House grounds where it has flown in proud defiance of the civil rights movement since the 1960’s. If the flag wasn’t problematic before this heinous crime it should not be problematic now, and to hastily remove it in response to this slaughter, although a sympathetic (and economic) gesture, does not address the heart of the matter. In my estimation it is indeed the HEART, that is the matter. Displaying the confederate flag is not inherently wrong. This is not NECESSARILY an issue on which we can take a moral stance. It is not a simple right or wrong dilemma. I understand that for some, the confederate battle flag does not evoke sentiments of racism or supremacy; it is simply a tribute to their heritage, ancestors, and homeland. For others, including the killer, it means much more and for others it is a hiding place for passive racism and group “identity.” It is without a doubt, however, a litmus test, exposing our willingness to deny our liberty, our freedom, to fly the flag of our choice, for the sake of offending our countrymen whose SHARED HERITAGE is conversely stained with death, injustice, rape, terror and inferiority.
If we remove the Confederate flag from the State Capitol for any reason other than a change in the hearts of South Carolinians, we may as well leave it be. This is not the time for political statements and worrying about national perception. But if we, like my friend Frank, finally listen to the cries and concerns of those we say we care about, soften our hearts, and choose to lay our liberties aside to assuage the pain of our brothers, the only suitable option would be a unanimous decision to remove the flag from the public grounds at the Palmetto State Capitol. The past and its people, as acclaimed or afflicted as they may be, should always be remembered. But it is difficult to completely “move forward” if painful, divisive icons continue to stand unchallenged.
Watson periodically shares his thoughts on current events. During the Ferguson unrest after the death of Michael Brown, Watson, via Facebook, called for a change in people’s spiritual lives in order to stop the violence, the looting, and the prejudice on all sides. Watson, who, along with New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, owns the highest Wonderlic score of any active NFL player, judged of the ugliness surrounding Ferguson that “ultimately the problem is not a SKIN problem, it is a SIN problem.”
Follow Trent Baker on Twitter @MagnifiTrent