Most people know I’ve been coaching youth and high school sports for most of my life.
But what they don’t know is my favorite part of the game, any game, is the national anthem. That is because, when I hear or sing The Star Spangled Banner at the beginning of any event — Little League, high school, college, or pro — it never fails to bring tears to my eyes.
And it really isn’t the music anymore or even the words, although they truly are breathtaking. Rather, it’s the overwhelming love of my country that is stirred and released from within each time I hear it.
It is the deep pride I have in being an American, and it has been that way ever since I was a kid. Because I knew then — and still know now — that I live in the greatest country on earth, and there isn’t a day that goes by I’m not grateful for that fact.
Perhaps much in the same way my great grandparents realized their American dream by coming here by boat in the 1860s from the Ukraine and from Germany. So blessed are we to live in a country of immigrants who came to this great land seeking the dream of freedom, equality and prosperity.
Perhaps much in the same way so many immigrants are still drawn to our shores today, especially here in Miami, where we are witnessing firsthand how this country is truly improving through diversity. Few places in the world have as many nationalities that get along and contribute to as beautiful a collaborative culture as South Florida’s.
So many people from so many lands, their dreams so strong they cannot be denied. They put everything on the line to come to America to pursue life on their terms, to pursue happiness, to express themselves freely, and even to disagree — sometimes with a loud voice.
I remember the moment years ago when my youthful pride turned into a deeper, more appreciative and understanding patriotism. It was 1970; I was in seventh grade. My classmates and I were supposed to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. And one morning, a student refused to stand up. I don’t know why he didn’t stand, but I remember the teacher yelling at him, condemning his disrespect and demanding he rise.
“He has a right not to stand,” I said. “This is a free country.”
I got in trouble; I was sent to the principal’s office and he didn’t, but it was worth it.
We each stand up in different ways, and we should never stop standing up for our right to do so.
Take Colin Kaepernick, for example. I’m no fan of what he did. I think overtly showing disrespect for our country is counterproductive, but I’d never deny him his right to express himself. What makes our country great is the powerful conviction we share that every person has an inalienable right to free and open expression.
I keep a quote on my desk. Anyone who’s ever been in my office might have seen it:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
— Reverend Martin Niemöller
Right now, they’re coming for immigrants who came to this country seeking the same rights that evoke such an emotional response from so many of us. This is the land of the free, but for it to remain free we must stand up for the rights of others. If we don’t, there may come a day when they come after us, and no one will be left to defend us.
We must never take for granted how unique we are as a community, as a people, and as a country. And we must never lose sight of what keeps us united, indivisible, with liberty and justice — for all.
We must never forget the power of speech, in any form, as a means through which to support the foundation of our national union.
And we must never forget to stand up, in our own ways, to preserve what makes America great.
And never stop pursuing our own American dream, together.